I’ve been living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the past three months, during which time I’ve been able to spend a lot of time at iCog-Labs’ office and observe what type of work they are doing. Yesterday I visited iCog-Labs’ first Anyone-Can-Code (ACC) lesson, where iCog staff began to teach simple coding to selected High School girls.
My one-month trip in Nigeria, on behalf of iCog Labs, was full of drama. Yet, here, I am allowed to write only the ‘not too exciting’ part of it and unfortunately, this does not include ‘the horse, the girl, and I’ incident on Elegushi beach.
iCog Labs was invited to attend the Disruptive Africa Expo and I arrived in Lagos Muruthalah Mohammed International Airport midst a very hot and sunny day. August 21 is usually a rainy day in Nigeria; it is the rainy season there. However, on that particular day, the sun was out with all her kinship.
Thinking that it would be rainy, I had packed two jackets and a sweater; my punishment for complaining about Addis Ababa’s recent climate change via a cruel jock for I had never got the chance to wear those. Nigeria is hot through and through and you will feel hot while standing in the middle of the rain wearing nothing but a t-shirt.
After passing through the usual boring boarding process, I am now standing in front of the sign that says “Welcome to Lagos”
African researchers have recently launched the YaNetu teaching tablet crowdfunding project. This effort aims to bring an AI based educational tablet to African children. The researchers hope to create:
– An Android-based teaching tablet for primary school age children in the developing world, with both offline and online applications
– A built-in curriculum, customized with local languages, designed to grow and develop over the years along with the child
– Artificial Intelligence systems, represented by human-like avatars, designed in collaboration with leading American AI researcher Dr. Ben Goertzel. Our AI avatars offer the student not only information and coaching, but also emotional and motivational feedback.
In an interview for Next Big Future with Sander Olson, iCOG researcher Hruy Tsegave describes why he believes that teaching tablets could be an effective and efficient method for providing large numbers of African children with a versatile and compelling teaching tool.
ADDIS ABABA —The black-and-white robot stopped and its eyes, two small red lights, suddenly lit up. Rotating about 90 degrees, it recognized the blue plastic ball a few centimeters away, came forward and kicked it.
“The robot is Chinese, but the processor is made in Ethiopia,” Getnet Aseffa explains. “A student developed it, and within a few months we will organize the first national football competition between robots, in the same vein as the International RoboCup tournament!”
Welcome to the iCog Labs experiment room in the heart of Addis Ababa’s university district. Getnet Aseffa, 28, is one of the brains behind the operation. After graduating in computer science in 2012, this avid reader of futurist author Ray Kurzweil co-created iCog with the help of American researcher Ben Goertzel. It is the first Ethiopian research and development laboratory specializing in artificial intelligence.
Coding as a profession has recently catapulted from the dark rooms of nerdom into the shining light of mainstream appeal, and few people are better off for it. In 20+ years of professional coding, I’ve never seen someone go from novice to full-fledged programmer in a matter of weeks, yet that seems to be what coding academies are promising, alongside instant employment, a salary big enough to afford a Tesla and the ability to change lives.
It’s an ingenious business model. There’s a dearth of skilled coders in the marketplace to fill the five million computing jobs available in this country. For somewhere between free and $36,000, you learn to program computers in less than a year. If you’re one of the lucky few, you will hit your aha moment with programming and develop a personal passion for it, as well land a real job.
Despite setbacks, Ethiopia’s tech economy has been making strides, luring entrepreneurs from throughout Africa and gaining international recognition.
This is due to a mix of increased government support for ICT development and the establishment of start-up incubators and hubs that are creating an ideal landscape for the tech industry to grow.
By Steven Blum
iceaddis co-working space. Image Courtesy of eLearning Africa
Now home to 1,000 members, incubator iceaddis is the first of its kind in Ethiopia, describing itself as: “Collaborative work spaces where aspiring young entrepreneurs, ICT driven individuals, techies, youth and creative individuals can come together to receive business and life skill training, prototyping, technology transfer and enhance their productivity and, ultimately, form viable and sustainable business plans for the future.”
Easily drawing comparisons to other tech hubs in the region, like Nairobi’s iHub – which now has over 16,000 members – or Uganda’s Hive Colab, iceaddis grew organically, starting with small events and workshops.
According to iceaddis member Markos Lemma, in Ethiopia “there is high potential for techies to develop applications and technical solutions.”
Deputy Minister of Science and Technology (between Lin Kayser and Ben Goertzel): Photo courtesy of Lin Kayser
On February 2, 2015 Getnet Asefa, the CEO of iCog Labs, standing under the azure sky over the international Airport of Addis Ababa welcomed his guests from Hong Kong, Germany, and England. His exact words were, “Welcome to the era of hi-tech meetings in East Africa”.
Before three years, it wasn’t even plausible to dream about meetings and seminars on Artificial intelligence, Robotics or social movements like transhumanism, in the Horn of Africa— the place widely known for famine, disease and endless civil, nations, tribal and what not wars.
Open Cog signed an agreement with Addis Ababa University (AAU). The Major goal of the agreement is to build and maintain a relationship in exposing and cultivating the hidden talent within the Ethiopian developers’ community in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). As part of the agreement, the university (Addis Ababa Institute of Technology/AAiT) announced that, it would establish a fully functional AI Outsourcing Laboratory inside the Amist Killo Main Campus with estimated cost of 1 million US Dollar.
Once again, Ben was in Addis. This time, some of the OpenCog team members from Hong Kong (Ruiting and Scott) and Cosmo (from Seattle, Washington) accompanied him along with the documentary filmmaker, Roy Cohen (from Israel).
Our first visitors came to Ethiopia! It was a long-awaited event and the Pioneers of the Ethiopian Singularity had spent the whole week learning, sharing, theorising and sometimes arguing (of course the tone was that of a friendly one) on the concepts of AGI.