Microsoft Pumps $100M into African AI Centres

Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has made it a priority to develop international partnerships, and the world’s largest software company is now expanding its presence across the great continent of Africa.

Last week Microsoft announced a US$100 million investment in its Africa Development Centres (ADC), with initial software development sites slated to open in Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria later this year. Microsoft will hire 100 full-time developers to work on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and mixed reality innovation. The company hopes to grow that number to 500 across the two sites by 2023.

Microsoft is playing catch-up in Africa’s growing tech community. Last month Google opened an AI research centre in the Ghanaian capital Accra. The centre will draw on local machine learning researchers and engineers to drive AI development in the region. Huawei has announced plans for two data centres in Africa; and last year Amazon Web Services announced it would open its first African data centre in 2020.

In an interview at the company’s Build 2019 event earlier this month, General Manager of the Microsoft Partner Experience Organization and the Microsoft for Startups Team Jeana Jorgensen told Synced “We’re seeing a lot of of interest, especially in the startup space, in what we call ‘AI for good’Lots and lots of work is coming out of Africa these days: how do you bring technology into rural areas and how do you improve the quality of life? The AI for good space is emerging rapidly and we want to encourage that.

Jorgensen says African developers are also reaching out and making their voices heard: “What we’re seeing in the dynamics is that oftentimes they are far ahead in solving problems because there’s an immediate need and technology can solve it way faster than throwing a person at it. And so we see in those geographies a tremendous amount of innovative ideas that we never even expected.” Jorgensen referred to one of the African startups she reviewed, “(They) are doing incredible work to improve the quality of life in their communities. And it all started with people who were not in technology before, and they were trying to figure out how to bring clean water…”

The increasing flow of early-stage investment funding and expanding smartphone use “have created a fertile environment for Africa’s emerging AI industry,” says Jorgensen.

Synced previously reported on the rise of African startups in developing and deploying AI in Kenya and Ethiopia in the East; Nigeria, and Ghana in West Africa; South Africa in the South; and Egypt in the North.

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