Artificial intelligence, quanta, the Internet of Things… the great challenges of Africa of the future

“Very surprised!” Rémi Quirion, Science Leader of Quebec and President International Network for Government Scientific Advisory (INGSA) (read box), admits the surprise he felt a few years ago, during his first meeting with Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, when the latter told him “you want to build expertise in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IOT) and Quantum. Not without the addition that in a country like his “Without natural resources, brains and their gray matter are wealth”.

And so, after holding, just before the Covid pandemic, the first training workshop for scientific advice, the 5th international conference of the network will take place from 30 April to 3 May 2024 in the capital Kigali. The first of its kind in Africa. INGSA 2024 called “The Transformation Imperative” must gather more than 500 people from all over the world, of course from Africa (Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, etc.) but also from Australia, Canada. , Mexico, Chile, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Europe (United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, France, etc.), in addition to several Rwandan officials including the Minister of Education.

Aim: to address the complex issues raised by disruptive innovation, artificial intelligence, ecological transition, social inequalities, training, etc. and to advance the dialogue between politicians and scientists to confront this complexity. Conversation.

“Everything is digitized in Rwanda, everyone pays with their mobile phone”

Science and the future: The term “science diplomacy” has been used more and more recently. It’s composed by?

Rémi Quirion: Realizing how science can be useful for reducing tensions between societies and bringing experts from different countries to work together towards the same goal. For example, discovering the Higgs boson or building very large telescopes… We have a diplomatic approach with the Quebec Research Fund, for example with Palestine, with which we signed an agreement a few years ago.

About ten Palestinian researchers from all disciplines came to Quebec for 6 months, then returned home and built bridges with Quebec researchers. In these difficult times we have just re-signed the contract with the Palestinian academies – it helps morale!

At the same time, we have agreements with Israel and we ask how science can make these two worlds work together. Let’s also think about the space station, where Americans and Russians lived for months in this very small space… Today, science diplomacy is more important than ever, with wars, climate change, crises like the coronavirus pandemic…

Artificial intelligence is in the forum menu. How important is this according to your “International Network of Governmental Science Councils”?

It’s a big challenge. We have to find a way to work with the very powerful industries that dominate the field, the GAFAMs whose research budgets exceed those of several countries. Ensuring that this AI has positive effects in society, that it helps educate young people, allows people to understand how human intelligence can go further with AI.

Africa wants to be present on these issues (1), as mentioned recently at the meeting in Cameroon. And what happened with the telephone could well have happened in Africa… where we saw it directly adopt the mobile phone, while in the North (America, Europe…) large telephones that dialed numbers were installed for decades , and the necessary networks… Everything is digitized in Rwanda today, everyone pays by mobile.

Everything is changing very fast in AI…

This challenge is all the more difficult to meet because the sector is really developing very quickly and government reaction times are often too slow. The critical point in my opinion will be to leave no one behind. This is why it is crucial to train young and old in ‘digital literacy’, a real knowledge and understanding of digital technologies.

At the same time, they are carefully installing privacy beacons to prevent the giants of this world from appropriating the information of fellow citizens. So the discussion at the forum will obviously focus on ethical rules regarding the use of artificial intelligence and the best way to avoid repeating the mistakes that have already happened in the field.

“There are significant quantum investments”

What do you suggest ?

We in the North need to find ways to help, perhaps through training, so that there are enough AI experts in the South to organize locally and without dependence on large research centers in the North. Most of today’s experts trained outside the African continent and after returning to their countries build forces from within.

The AIMS (African Institute for Mathematical Sciences) centers of the large research and mathematics network based in Rwanda help a lot. They recruited a number of emigrants and maintained strong ties with the countries of the North. During the conference, we will also think about how to promote the South-South network, especially with experts from Southeast Asia.

“Disturbing” discoveries are on the agenda. Isn’t the gap between north and south too big to bridge?

Africa will develop certain “special” industries with quality infrastructure where researchers are already very good. We can recall the Covid pandemic, during which variants of the virus were discovered in South Africa by scientists who based their expertise (genomics, clinical research, etc.) on AIDS-related work.

There are also significant investments, especially in Senegal and Rwanda, in quantum volume. IBM, which would like to develop a computer there, launched the Quantum Challenge to develop a quantum community on the continent.

A new Hirax telescope project is being developed in South Africa (University of Kwazulu-Natal, Aims, Nrf-Sarao, etc.) (2). It is financial investment that will obviously play a key role and provide young people with the means to work. If they get them, it will be great for these countries where the average age has nothing to do with ours. These young people, who all look like they are in their twenties, are an extraordinary asset! He must be able to train.

This is what INGSA promotes…

Yes, we need to increase science advisory capacity for leaders to interact with scientists to build research capacity. And especially with the French-speaking international scientific advisory network, whose secretariat is based at Laval University (Quebec) and has branches in Senegal, Morocco… This is very important for the future.

1) Africa currently contributes only 3% of global GDP.

2) An interferometric array of 1024 6-meter radio telescopes to be deployed at the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) site in South Africa, designed to measure cosmic hydrogen line emission and constrain dark energy and dark matter models.

INGSA, 5,500 members in 110 countries
Helping to develop policies at the global level that can be based on convincing scientific data (“evidence-based policies”) is the mission of the “International Network of Government Scientific Advice” (INGSA), affiliated to the International Science Council (ISC).

To strengthen the interface between politicians and scientists, workshops, conferences and forums (Brussels, Tokyo, Montreal, etc.) are organized where decision-makers, academics and scientists meet to share their experiences.

Fellowships may also be awarded to early- to mid-career researchers in low-income countries. A network of 5,500 members in 110 countries, founded in 2014 and interested in strengthening scientific advisory capacities in developing economies, created the African branch “INGSA-Africa” ​​in 2016 during a workshop in Hermanus (South Africa), followed by 2017 French Speaking Workshop in Dakar (Senegal).

It maintains numerous links with “Future Africa” ​​(entrepreneurs, investors, operators) whose resources must be used to solve Africa’s biggest problems. In September 2023, the first INGSA-type workshop was held in France at the University of Burgundy Franche-Comté (a collaboration between the region of the same name and the Office of the Scientific Chief of Quebec). The INGSA2024 conference in Kigali (Rwanda), 30 April – 3 May, should help consolidate the establishment of the new INGSA-Africa Hub Rwanda branch.

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