Artificial Intelligence in Africa – 10 trends for 2023

As we enter 2023 and begin the journey towards the 6th edition of AI Expo Africa later this year, the team at AI Media wanted to share a few insights on what we feel will be the hot topics and trends in the Africa region with regards to AI & 4IR tech adoption by business users this year and beyond…….

Trend 1 – Reality trumps hype as AI software market growth accelerates

When we started AI Expo Africa here in South Africa back in 2018, it would be fair to say the atmosphere was one of excitement with a fair degree of hype mixed with solid doses of reality.  There was still talk of “AI Winters” and that adoption would be slow.  Well, 5 years on, the landscape has radically changed. Tools and techniques that were once the exclusive domain of “the developer” are now freely accessible via zero cost platforms / apps / APIs allowing business users to leverage all kinds of AI related tech, be that AI generated presentations or logos, to art, videos, music and animations to name but a few.  Even in the time we have been running the show, the creativity and use cases have exploded and it would be fair to say, we are now well into the AI Spring!

Global AI Software Market Growth by Verified Market Research

Market size and growth estimates vary (globally) but needless to say the trend is one of upward growth in the AI software vendor market with estimates between 25-40% CAGR being touted.  As a frontier, growth market, this will be a positive enabler as companies begin to enter the region directly, or seek market penetration via channel and VAR local partners.

Trend 2 – Generative AI will be disruptive

“Chat GPT” I hear you say?  Towards the end of 2022 Open AI’s ChatGPT3 hit the streets and reached 1 million users in 5 days (we were lucky to get access during this period) and it kind of blew the lights out in terms of possible use cases, be it text to code or create me a strategy – you type it and Chat GPT3 would give you some pretty convincing outputs. Even the initial launch product was being modified and evolving each time you logged back in.  The vendors that have emerged in this space are also increasing rapidly but the early to market vendors like Synthesia (AI text generated Avatar Video Presentations) who we used to host AI Expo Africa 2020, have now been truly validated and this market is set to see some serious growth!

Trend 3 – The Business need for 3rd party legal, ethical & policy development advisory will take off

A hot topic with business users is that of legal, ethical & policy considerations when deploying AI based technologies be that B2B or B2C. Legal advisory companies are now establishing AI tech practices to address the need for in-sourced legal, ethical & policy advice and developing them for contracting and supply arrangements. In the absence of hard local or regional standards and regulation, this is going to be a growth segment in the next 5 years with privacy, transparency and data protection at it’s core.

Trend 4 – National AI strategies will be an enabler for economic growth

As part of our study on The State of AI in Africa which we released mid 2022, it was interesting to note which countries in Africa had written and published a National Strategy for AI.  The ones that had done so, had also created supporting / enabling entities like AI Centres of Excellence (AI CoEs) and or AI Associations, thus taking a tops down and bottoms approach to how they can best liberate the full potential of AI and related 4IR technologies and stimulate economic and societal benefit in their respective countries.

The Sate of AI in Africa Report

The Sate of AI in Africa Report

Trend 5 – RPA in the long-tail SME segment will increase

The Africa region is large and holds a massive population but the number of businesses you can sell to at the country level are typically fewer in number than those of say USA, Asia and Europe.  This means, enterprise pricing structures for RPA tools for big players may not read across as well to the SME / long tail client base, a segment that is crying out for lower cost licensing models.  The automation of business processes is no longer the preserve of the banks, insurance and retailers.  The mid-size long tail, smaller clients are way bigger in terms of total number but would welcome a lower price point. This presents a massive opportunity for new or existing RPA players to differentiate and disrupt this segment with new offerings.

Trend 6 – Service & Assistant Robotic platform adoption will increase

At AI Expo Africa 2022 we held a robotics showcase that highlighted the growing use cases and deployments of robotics platforms. These platforms (unlike their traditional, large, manufacturing counter parts) are smaller, agile systems that can perform a series of tasks 24/7 in a range of environments. Such examples include; secure delivery of drugs in hospitals, cleaning of large floor spaces, hospitality waiting and food delivery in hotels etc….  All these use cases are finding a market in Africa and this segment is set for growth.

Service robots delivering programmes at AI expo Africa 2022

Service robots delivering programmes at AI Expo Africa 2022

Trend 7 – Skills development Vs retention remains a challenge BUT Non-developer interest in AI will grow

In one of our recent LinkedIn polls we asked what were the key challenges for businesses in growing / adopting AI technologies and the number one challenge was skills acquisition and retention. Post C19 many new entrants can rapidly acquire skills via their first job in Africa and then be recruited or land a job in Europe for a significant raise with the option to work from home.  The workforce is now truly mobile in a post-C19 world, so it’s a tough call for employers who are already sourcing from a finite pool of top talent.

Gartner Jobs Spectrum

With free learning resources, regional communities and no end of tutorials on platforms like YouTube there has never been a better time to become more fluent in AI and Data Science. The spectrum of existing, new and emerging jobs in this space is evolving too (see example from Gartner above) so take your pick and seize the opportunity of a lifetime.

Trend 8 – Data Centre & 4IR tech investment will increase as a key enabler for adoption

The Big Deal Africa 2022 Tech Investment Figures

The Big Deal Africa 2022 Tech Investment Figures

Adoption of 4IR technologies is based on data and infrastructure, and that needs investment.  After another stunning year of tech investment into Africa in 2022, a region that seemed to buck the downward VC trend of last year, we kick off 2023 with the news that Convergence Partners, a leading private equity investor in Africa / sub-Saharan Africa, has closed its Convergence Partners Digital Infrastructure Fund (CPDIF) with $296 million. (Read More).  This fund is aimed at investments in fibre networks, data centres, wireless, towers, cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and other critical digital infrastructure that will be vital for inclusive growth of the digital economy.  “As we are 7 years away from 2030 we commit to addressing SDGs and preparing Digital Infrastructure for Africa which is soon to be home to 2 Billion people with the youngest population on our planet,” said Andile Ngcaba, Chairman and Founding Partner at Convergence Partners. It is highly likely we will see more funds of this kind emerge in the region in the coming years making similar investments.

Trend 9 – The business case for VR MR AR will begin to firm up

One of the most popular pop-up features of AI Expo Africa 2022, was our roaming VR MR AR crew who were showcasing their amazing headsets and virtual world development capabilities.  While most people think this is the realm of gamers and geeks, the business use cases are varied and increasing.  We believe this will be the year that more business use cases begin to emerge as this technology finds its footing – especially as it is rumoured Apple are to soon release their own headset.

Gartner emerging tech radar

Trend 10 – More Edge / Mobile applications will emerge

Africa has long been the home to the “mobile adopter” often using this platform as the means to jump into a new technology domains way faster than the Global North.  This gave rise the to the African FinTech & mobile money revolution of the last decade.  As these devices become more powerful, various developers and movements are working on Edge AI and mobile applications that run on the device.  We had a big feature on this at AI Expo Africa 2022 and Gartner also sees the same pattern (see the Gartner Emerging Tech Radar above).  Africa has always been a mobile first adoption region so we can expect to see some interesting developments in this space this year and beyond.

About the AI Media Group

The AI Media Group is a South African based industry analysis, publishing & business events consultancy specialising in the 4IR / smart tech sector in Africa.  They are curators of AI Expo Africa, the continent’s largest B2B/B2G Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) trade show and publishers of Synapse, the first quarterly trade magazine charting Africa’s 4IR innovation journey. The group also runs AI TV which hosts discussions on trends in AI and 4IR technologies with local, regional and global thought leaders.

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Blog title Image Credit – Alan Warburton / © BBC / Better Images of AI / Quantified Human / CC-BY 4.0