Nigeria and USA Plan AI Conference to Boost Economic and Technological Ties

Nigeria has made a significant stride towards technological advancement with the launch of its first multilingual large language model (LLM), positioning the nation at the forefront of artificial intelligence (AI) development in Africa.

by Faruk Imamovic
Nigeria and USA Plan AI Conference to Boost Economic and Technological Ties
© Getty Images/Dan Kitwood

Nigeria has made a significant stride towards technological advancement with the launch of its first multilingual large language model (LLM), positioning the nation at the forefront of artificial intelligence (AI) development in Africa.

The unveiling took place during a pivotal four-day AI workshop in Abuja, where over 120 AI experts convened to propel Nigeria’s AI agenda forward. Communications Minister Dr. Bosun Tijani spearheaded the event, announcing collaborations and significant strides in AI.

Among the major revelations was the partnership between Nigerian AI firm Awarritech, global technology entity DataDotOrg, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), and the National Centre for AI and Robotics (NCAIR).

This concerted effort is poised to bolster AI development through a unique focus on language diversity. Dr. Tijani highlighted the significance of this move, stating, "The LLM will be trained in five low-resource languages and accented English to ensure stronger language representation in existing data sets for the development of artificial intelligence solutions." Furthermore, the Minister revealed that the project would leverage the expertise of over 7,000 fellows from the 3MTT Nigeria program, ensuring a broad base of intellectual and technical support.

This ambitious project also includes significant financial backing, with over $3.5 million in seed funding provided by a mix of local and international partners such as UNDP, UNESCO, Meta, Google, Microsoft, and Luminate, among others.

Collaborative Efforts and International Interest

The initiative has attracted interest from both domestic and international sectors, indicating the global relevance of Nigeria’s AI ambitions. Notably, the partnership extends beyond local entities, involving 21st Century Technologies and Galaxy Backbone in enhancing national computing capacities through the acquisition of GPUs.

This strategic move is expected to support local researchers and startups engaged in AI projects housed at the GBB Data Centre in the FCT. Moreover, the workshop facilitated the relaunch of NCAIR, which has been reinvigorated to better support research and development in AI, robotics, UAV, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Dr. Tijani commented on the strategic importance of this development, "The enhanced capacity at NCAIR will enable it to more effectively carry out its role as a digital innovation and research center."

A Future Shaped by AI

The U.S.

has also shown a keen interest in Nigeria’s burgeoning AI sector. At the workshop’s conclusion, Mr. Arthur Brown, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy, disclosed plans for a U.S.-Nigeria AI conference to be held in Lagos.

This conference aims to further discussions on digital economy, emerging technology, and AI, with the goal of strengthening economic ties and ensuring that AI deployment is safe, secure, transparent, and trustworthy.

AI Robots© Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

The discussions are expected to build on the momentum of the Abuja workshop, reinforcing the bilateral relations between the two countries and focusing on talent development, infrastructure, research, and innovation.

The U.S. commitment was evident as Brown praised Nigeria’s proactive stance in AI, emphasizing the potential for this technology to dramatically transform economies and societies. In his address, Dr. Tijani underscored the transformative potential of AI, citing a PricewaterhouseCoopers study which predicts that AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

He stressed the importance of establishing effective governance for AI to maximize its impact across various sectors, prioritizing sustainable development over immediate revenue generation.

Strategic Initiatives and Future Directions

The significance of Nigeria's AI strategy extends beyond technological innovation; it represents a critical economic catalyst.

By embracing AI, Nigeria is poised to unlock new avenues of job creation and revenue generation, which are vital for sustainable development. The government's proactive approach—highlighted by the National AI Strategy—aims to create an environment conducive to technological growth while ensuring it aligns with the country's broader economic goals.

During the four-day workshop, it was also announced that 21st Century Technologies would inject an additional $2 million into the pilot program of the AI initiative. This funding is earmarked for infrastructural enhancements that will bolster computing power at the national level, thereby accelerating AI research and applications.

This reflects a tangible commitment to nurturing a robust ecosystem for AI innovation within the country. Furthermore, the relaunched National Centre for AI and Robotics (NCAIR) is set to play a pivotal role in this ecosystem.

With upgraded facilities and a clear mandate, NCAIR is expected to be at the forefront of AI and robotics research, focusing on practical applications that can benefit key sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, and education.

The center's work will not only advance scientific knowledge but also translate these advancements into real-world solutions that address some of Nigeria's most pressing challenges.

Engaging the Global Diaspora and International Partners

To reinforce its AI strategy, the Nigerian government has extended its collaboration to include the global Nigerian diaspora and international AI experts.

This move underscores the importance of leveraging global talent and expertise to foster innovation within the country. By tapping into a wider pool of knowledge and experience, Nigeria aims to ensure that its AI solutions are both cutting-edge and culturally relevant, catering to the unique needs and challenges of its diverse population.

This international collaboration is further enhanced by strategic partnerships with global tech giants and educational institutions. These partnerships not only provide financial support but also offer valuable knowledge transfer and capacity-building opportunities.

For instance, collaborations with entities like Lagos Business School and Data Science Nigeria are designed to cultivate a skilled workforce that can thrive in an AI-driven economy.