Wits leads ambitious partnership to boost AI in Africa

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wits

Whis university today invited the African research community to join its new IA Africa Consortium which aims to develop a collaborative network centered on advances in artificial intelligence (IA) and the application of AI in research and innovation.

On the occasion of the virtual opening of AI Expo Africa 2021, the largest business-driven AI event in Africa, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University, announced the ambitious partnership, saying that AI and machine learning (ML) “offer enormous opportunities for development and progress in Africa”.

“So that we participate fully in the 21st century, we must use this “scientific renaissance” to stimulate innovation and foster the growth of a strong scientific ecosystem. In doing so, we can play an active role in making real progress and helping to steer the socio-economic trajectory of the African continent, ”said Vilakazi.

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It is for this reason that Wits University has partnered with Cirrus AI, a private sector-led initiative that aims to bring large-scale AI infrastructure capacity and world-class expertise to the doorstep of African universities, research institutes, researchers and collaborators of the industry. Cirrus was announcement at AI Expo Africa in 2019.

“Cirrus is an initiative that aims to secure funding to establish, among other things, the first AI supercomputer hub in Africa to be located on the University of Wits campus. Cirrus has already forged partnerships and relationships with stakeholders in the AI ​​space around the world, ”explained Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of Innovation Strategy at the University of Wits. He is the project manager of the AI ​​Africa Consortium.

“This partnership will foster and stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship in AI through the infrastructure, engineering capacity and learning programs that will be put in place. Student participation and training will be at the heart of our efforts to develop AI skills in Africa, ”he said.

Help us develop the research footprint in Africa

The Consortium will also lead engagement and coordination with government agencies and nonprofit research institutions on Cirrus adoption. It will support data science practices in all fields of research and help local academic and research institutions stimulate AI research and advance the application of AI in industry.

“Wits University has Africa’s largest group of researchers and postgraduate students working in the disciplines of data science, AI and ML. We invite all members of the Alliance of African Research Universities (ARUA) as well as other universities and research institutes in Africa to join the AI ​​Africa Consortium and help us increase Africa’s footprint on the continent. world map of search results’, Professor Lynn Morris, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, said in her speech at the Africa AI Expo.

Look ahead

“We are embarking on these great companies because we remain optimistic about the future of our country and our continent. There are huge opportunities to build business and solve problems using AI and ML. This will secure the future of our society for generations to come, ”Vilakazi said.

How will the AI ​​Africa Consortium work?

The members of the level 1 consortium will each appoint an “ambassador”. These ambassadors will participate in what will be known as the “Ambassador Advisory Network”, responsible for building the network and negotiating benefits on behalf of the members of the Consortium.

What will be the advantages of joining the AI ​​Africa Consortium?

“Through international collaborations already established by Cirrus AI, the Consortium will connect members to the global AI network,” Dwolatzky explained in his presentation at AI Africa Expo.

Other benefits include:

  • Provide researchers with access to hardware / software / data and machine learning engineers. While this is implied, it is often forgotten that infrastructure is useless without the supporting engineering to help use it.
  • Access to state-of-the-art computing capabilities where members will have free access to the powerful supercomputing platform hosted at Wits University;
  • A “Digital Asset Locker” where members will have access to a large storage capacity to store data for use in ML and activities in AI;
  • A “sandbox” where researchers can test concepts and ideas;
  • Co-development programs for research and learning in AI;
  • An annual summer and winter school program to develop AI skills;
  • The “Saloons” and “Teatime” conferences to share information across Africa and beyond;
  • The right to host events in the Consortium forums;
  • Inclusion in consortium-led proposals and contracts to participate in continent-wide tenders for research grants and funding in the field of AI.

Read also : Wits University creates Africa AI research initiative

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