Technology is rapidly evolving, and if innovations like ‘Digital Umuganda’ are anything to go by, Rwanda is making progress in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Invented by Audace Niyonkuru, ‘Digital Umuganda’, a local artificial intelligence start-up, focuses on voice technologies to balance access to information and services, thus helping to bridge the digital divide gap. ALSO READ: How new AI infrastructure will preserve Kinyarwanda Niyonkuru’s start-up does this through international initiatives like ‘Common Voice’, which links global efforts to local communities. ‘Common Voice’ is a crowdsourcing project started by Mozilla to create a free database for speech recognition software. ‘Digital Umuganda’ projects bring national smart master plans with a focus on sustainable development into perspective, working in partnership with Mozilla and other companies to construct a Kinyarwanda voice database where Rwandans will have access to information and services in their local language. AI is progressively part of the government’s plans to improve public services. It is being used with the objective to increase efficiency in the delivery of services and ensure equitable access to services. ALSO READ: AI: An opportunity or threat? According to research from Oxford Insights, Rwanda was ranked 95th worldwide out of 183 counties in the Government AI Readiness Index 2022, with indicator data of 40.20 points out of 100 based on 39 indicators in three pillars, namely, government, the technology sector, and, data and infrastructure. The index further revealed that high-income countries with strong AI strategies and investments took the top 10 spots in the global rankings, with the United States leading the way with a score of 85.72 ahead of Singapore, the United Kingdom, Finland, Canada, South Korea, France, Australia, Japan, and the Netherlands. Implementing AI in public service According to Dr Damien Hanyurwimfura, Associate Professor and Acting Director of the African Center of Excellence in Internet of Things (ACEIoT) at the University of Rwanda, students at the centre have developed projects in agriculture, health, technology, AI, and others that require some techniques like machinery. Some are funded, and others are not. He said there is still a challenge of lack of capacity for people who are skilled in AI, however, they have plans to introduce modules in AI for their students to get more equipped in the area. He also said that although ACEIoT has sensors that monitor the body’s parameters, they are of low quality. ALSO READ: Artificial Intelligence: A direction for future growth On January 24, UR through ACEIoT, launched the ‘IoT and AI Applied Research Results Commercialisation through Incubation Hub’ where learners can craft ideas and implement their projects. The ‘AI and Internet of Things’ proposal was submitted as research to UK Aid, for The Research and Innovation Systems for Africa (RISA) and has been cited for funding. The project intends to create an Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) based applied research incubator which is expected to facilitate the transfer of applied research prototypes and knowledge from IoT labs to markets and commercialisation through academia-industry collaboration. According to Hanyurwimfura, lecturers ought to be trained in AI so they can effectively pass on information and knowledge in the field to learners. He said students have introduced projects such as the Automated Teller Machine, to ease delivery of ‘me-to-you.’ This will aim at accessing mobile money, or airtime without a mobile money agent, just as money is withdrawn from any ATM. Another project is a system that detects water pipes faults and reports the problem to Water and Sanitation Corporation-WASAC immediately to avoid wastage of water, among others such as a chair that measures one’s temperature, pressure, and general health status, in case of a health problem, one seeks medical attention as soon as possible. Hanyurwimfura believes that students have creative ideas but lack funding to implement their projects. ALSO READ: Rwanda to use artificial intelligence in disaster management In February this year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched the 5th African Science, Technology and Innovation Forum in Niamey, Niger to focus on capacity-building in digital skills, AI, and emerging technologies in Africa. The idea was to get more women in AI. African women were encouraged to get more involved in innovative projects that respond to the needs of the continent. Women already in the field will be further in AI, data science, leadership, foresight, and entrepreneurship, and given support to develop and scale up their projects.