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Senegalese Moustapha Cisse heads Google’s first Artificial Intelligence lab in Africa

Amos Fofung
Amos Fofung
AMOS FOFUNG Nkunchoh is a multi-talented journalist with an intrinsic passion for investigative, politics and conflict reporting. He's based in the U. S.A.

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To Moutapha Cisse, artificial intelligence is changing society as profoundly as the steam engine and electricity did. But unlike past technological revolutions, AI offers a unique chance to improve lives without exacerbating global inequalities.

With that conviction, the Senegalese-born doctor of Machine learning took it upon himself to pace Africa with other world powers as they journey towards mastering and utilizing artificial intelligence. 

His dream inched closer last year when he was appointed as head of Africa’s first-ever Artificial Intelligence lab opened by Google in Ghana in West Africa.

“Over the past 10 years in which Google has had offices in Africa, we’ve been excited to be a part of that transformation. Ultimately 10 million Africans will benefit from our digital skills training program with 2 million people having already completed the course, and we’re supporting 100,000 developers and over 60 tech startups through our Launchpad Accelerator Africa. We’re also adapting our products to make it easy for people to discover the best of the internet, even on low-RAM smartphones or unstable network connections,” Jeff Dean, Senior Fellow, Google AI, and Moustapha Cisse, Staff Research Scientist had earlier said in a statement.

Moustapha Cisse (photo: CNN)

Formerly a research Staff at Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research, FAIR, Menlo Park, California, USA, where he worked for two years, Dr. Cisse is now supporting his continent to stand out as a global contender in AI.

After obtaining his Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Sciences in 2007 and Master’s degree in Software Engineering the next year in Senegal, Moustapha’s quest for knowledge took him to France where he bagged a Master’s degree in Computer science (with honors) in 2010 and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris.

With a team of nine research scientists and software engineers from nine different countries such as Lesotho, Uganda, and Ireland, among others which he heads, Cisse says it is important that Africans are at the forefront of providing solutions to problems on their continent.

His team, he says, seeks at providing developers with the necessary research needed to build products that can solve problems that Africa faces today.

Cisse, says the Google center directly engages with researchers in African universities by providing grants to those interested in the various fields of AI and giving Ph.D. scholarships.

Moustapha Cisse, Head of Google AI speaks at the launch of the Accra lab. Pic credit: Google Africa

He added that Google also supports graduate programs in Machine Intelligence at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences center in Rwanda.

With Over 16 publications on computer sciences to his name, Moustapha Cisse is co-founder of a number of AI and machine learning African groups including the BlackinAI group, which aims at enhancing black people involvement in AI via sharing ideas, collaborations, and initiatives.

Currently, the group brags of over 1.000 members from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and North America.

As one of the organizers of the 1st ever Black in AI event, which took place at Neural Information Processing Systems, NIPS, in 2017 in California, USA, they sought to increase the presence of Black people in the field of artificial intelligence, for both diversity and data bias prevention purposes.

On their decision to open the center, Google said they’ve “seen people across Africa do amazing things with the internet and technology—for themselves, their communities and the world,” reason why they decided to open up the center so as to continually support technology in the continent regarded by forecasters as “tomorrow’s next stop”.

But Dr. Moustapha who’s on a mission believes more needs to be done.

The Founder and director of the continent’s flagship Machine Intelligence program: the African Masters of Machine Intelligence, AMMI believes that for the successful implementation of AI in Africa, African governments need to “create a standard legal framework and a set of values that will help to ensure that AI in Africa serves the good of humanity.”

Google joins Facebook and other tech companies, in launching projects in Africa with a keen eye on the continent’s rising youth population, CNN’s Aanu Adeoye holds.

Google says it will partner with local universities and institutions as well as policy-makers to develop AI in Africa, the Accra-based center will host engineers and researchers to work on AI-dedicated projects. 

Google has also established AI research centers in cities the world over such as in Tokyo, Zurich, New York, and Paris, but the Ghana center standout as it will rally the continents young and eager talents to professionalize their art especially as Africa still staggers in the sector.

According to Google, the Ghana lab’s mission will also include working on issues related to health, education, and agriculture. A focused on how AI can play in agricultural production will be looked upon as Moustapha heads Africa’s first Artificial Intelligence lab.

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