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Facebook artificial intelligence (AI) researchers create the world’s most detailed population density maps of Africa

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New AI-powered, high-res maps to help humanitarian aid and relief agencies better assist people in need

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, April 9, 2019 – Facebook is working closely with key non-profit and research partners to use artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to address large-scale social, health and infrastructure challenges in sub Saharan Africa. These efforts range from rural electrification in Tanzania to vaccinating people in remote corners of Malawi.

Facebook is applying the processing muscle of its compute power, its extensive data science skills and its expertise in AI and machine learning to create the world’s most detailed and accurate maps of local populations. Facebook also partners with Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) to ensure that this effort leverages the best available administrative data for all countries involved.

The Boston-based Facebook team uses advanced computer vision and machine learning to combine satellite imagery from Digital Globe with public census data and other sources to create detailed population density maps of Africa. Using Facebook’s machine learning capabilities, Facebook started developing population density maps to provide better tools to support connectivity efforts around the world. No Facebook data has been or will be used in the project and the census and satellite data used contain no personally identifiable information.

High-resolution satellite imagery already exists for much of the world. However, prior to Facebook’s mapping project, it would have required countless hours for volunteers to comb through millions of square miles of pictures to identify which contained a tiny town or remote village.

The Facebook team used AI to solve that problem, efficiently crunching through data at a petabyte scale. For Africa alone, for example, the computer vision system examined 11.5 billion individual images to determine whether they contained a building. The team found approximately 110 million buildings in just a few days.

“Having started my career at USAID working on malaria control, I have witnessed first-hand the critical role that accurate data plays in the effectiveness of humanitarian efforts,” says Laura McGorman, a public policy manager at Facebook. “What’s exciting about projects like these that they provide an opportunity for our company to contribute to these efforts through our expertise in data and machine learning.”

In Malawi, the Missing Maps Project used these AI-powered maps to filter out the 97% of the terrain that is uninhabited. This helped to coordinate the efforts of 3,000 Red Cross volunteers in Malawi who visited roughly 100,000 houses in just three days to educate people about measles and rubella vaccines

“The maps from Facebook ensure we focus our volunteers’ time and resources on the places they’re most needed, improving the efficacy of our programs,” says Tyler Radford, executive director of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, which is part of the Missing Maps Project.

In addition to assisting the Red Cross and Missing Maps Project in Malawi, the maps have been used by aid groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap. In Tanzania, Facebook’s AI-powered maps helped kick-start efforts to bring renewable electrification to rural areas.

To understand which locations would benefit most from decentralized energy solutions, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team collaborated with the Reiner Lemoine Institut and Integration Environment and Energy to combine Facebook’s population maps with detailed data on settlement locations and structures from OpenStreetMap.

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team personnel then travelled to villages identified as high priority and conducted surveys to understand the populations’ electricity needs. The results of these surveys were provided to agencies involved in rural electrification, helping mini-grid operators choose the most appropriate locations to begin the work.

The Facebook population density maps project now aims to keep adding new continents and countries.

– Facebook

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STEMbees: Aburi Girls Senior High School To Represent Ghana at Global Robotics Competition

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STEMbees -Twelve students from the Aburi Girls’ Senior High School in the Eastern region are representing Ghana this year in the 2021 FIRST Global Challenge – the fifth iteration of the global Olympics-style robotics event. This year’s theme, “Discover & Recover,” focuses on overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic by discovering opportunities for innovative recovery and will have participants represented from over 160 countries participating. From social projects to miniature satellites to robot design, teenagers from around the world are required to develop solutions to problems the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.

The all-girls Team Ghana is being mentored by the STEMbees Organisation and will be a part of this virtual season which began on 27 June 2021 and will end on 28 September 2021. There are three main components which are a Solutions challenge, a CubeSat challenge and a Robotics challenge.

In the Solutions Challenge, teams are to innovate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) solutions to local problems resulting from the pandemic in the areas of education, environment, health and economy. Team Ghana’s solution is focused on making biodegradable nose masks from plantain fibres that are more comfortable and do not require strings to wear.

“At STEMbees we encourage young women to become problem solvers using technology. The problem this team identified is that a large number of Ghanaians do not properly dispose of the single-use nose masks. These disposable nose masks are made of polypropylene, which takes a long time to decompose and can carry a wide range of viruses including the coronavirus into water bodies, soil and ultimately to animals and back to us humans if not properly disposed of. Also, many people complain that the masks are uncomfortable to wear, causing them to wear them wrongly or not at all,” shares Angela Koranteng, a co-founder of STEMbees.

It has been discovered that plantain trees are readily available across the country. Often their stems are left to rot after the fruits are harvested. However, these pseudo-stems of plantain trees can be recycled into fiber, reducing wastage, and providing an affordable alternative to cotton to help produce more eco-friendly nose masks.

Aburi Girls SHS Students (Image: Supplied)

“An exciting part about this year’s FIRST Global Challenge is the prototyping of a CubeSat. The girls are designing and building a CubeSat miniature satellite prototype and will launch it into the lower layers of Earth’s atmosphere on 25th September 2021 at their school,” adds Koranteng.

Climate change has made our weather unpredictable with rapidly changing seasons and Team Ghana’s mission for the satellite prototype is weather monitoring (measuring temperature and aerial photos of clouds) as well as assessing air-quality within the Aburi area. Their CubeSat prototype will include a mini-camera, a digital temperature sensor and a laser particle sensor in a 3d printed cube box.

 

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Twitter introduces new feature to automatically block abusive behavior

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Authored by Amer Owaida, Security Writer at ESET (Image: Supplied)

Dubbed Safety Mode, the feature will temporarily block authors of offensive tweets from being able to contact or follow users.

Twitter has unveiled a new feature called Safety Mode, aimed at curbing abusive behavior by autoblocking any unwanted tweets and other forms of online harassment. Currently the feature is available to a handful of users.

“Unwelcome Tweets and noise can get in the way of conversations on Twitter, so we’re introducing Safety Mode, a new feature that aims to reduce disruptive interactions. Starting today, we’re rolling out this safety feature to a small feedback group on iOS, Android, and Twitter.com, beginning with accounts that have English-language settings enabled,” said Twitter in a blog post introducing the new feature.

When the Safety Mode feature is enabled it will briefly block accounts for a period of seven days for using abusive language such as insults or loathsome comments, as well as for sending out repetitive or unsolicited mentions.

Once the feature is turned on, Twitter’s systems will analyze the tweet’s content, the relationship between the tweet’s author and replier, and whether there is a probability of negative engagement. The technology also looks at the relationships; if the user regularly interacts with those accounts or follows them, then it won’t autoblock them.

However, if Twitter’s technology evaluates that the tweets do contain any offensive material, their authors will be autoblocked in short order. This means, temporarily, they won’t be able to follow you, see your tweets, or even contact you using direct messages.

Users will have the option to review the details of flagged tweets and autoblocked accounts from the Safety Mode menu at any time. Additionally, they’ll also receive a notification summarizing this information before each Safety Mode period ends.

That being said, the social media platform concedes that the system isn’t perfect. “We won’t always get this right and may make mistakes, so Safety Mode autoblocks can be seen and undone at any time in your Settings. We’ll also regularly monitor the accuracy of our Safety Mode systems to make improvements to our detection capabilities,” said Twitter.

The social media giant has worked with various partners from its Trust and Safety Council during the development of the new feature. Its main aim is to better protect users by reducing the frequency of hateful comments. In the meantime, it will keep on observing how the new feature operates and will add improvements along the way before it rolls Safety Mode out to all of its users.

Harassment and other forms of abusive behavior on social media have become a perennial problem, and social media platforms have been working hard to stomp it out for some time now. Earlier this year Instagram also rolled out its own set of features aimed at helping prevent cyberbullying.

 

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Is Johannesburg The City of “AI” Gold?

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Johannesburg city, South Africa (Image: British Airways website)

Recently announced research by the AI Media Group, Cape Town, South Africa, points towards Johannesburg fast becoming the continents Artificial Intelligence (AI) Tech Capital of Africa 

Launched in early 2018 the AI Media Group set out to create a new hybrid analysis, trade & advisory operation to build one of the largest communities of technology practitioners discussing the application of AI/4IR technologies in a business context on the African continent.  

Dr Nick Bradshaw, Founder and CEO of AI Media stated, “One of our key goals was to assess and showcase the growing emerging market opportunity in the Africa region for this particular technology category. When we started this journey there was literally zero, or at best, fragmented data on the companies and people driving this sector in Africa. Over the last two years we have been building a much more detailed picture analyzing organizations that are active (or seeking to be active) in the African AI/4IR tech ecosystem both locally, regionally and globally. Our analysis encompassed commercial and non-commercial entities and we also looked at No. Employees, Industry, HQ City, Country, Sector, Year Founded and Specialization.”  

Some clear trends are now emerging with some top-level insights summarized below.

  • 1500+ companies were analyzed to establish a baseline data set
  • 1389 companies had consistent data, of which 826 (60%) are based / head quartered in Africa 
  • 74% of these are based in South Africa, 6% Tunisia 6% Nigeria 3% Kenya 2% Egypt 2% Ghana
  • 18 other countries make up the remaining 7%
  • Focusing on those based in South Africa, 67% are based in the city regions of Johannesburg and Pretoria while Cape Town accounts for 29%
  • 62% of all African companies active in the region are privately held 
  • The vast majority (50%) having less than 20 employees.  
  • Based on year founded, the last 5 years have seen a significant rise in the number of companies active in this sector, most likely due to the combined effects of; available funding, lower start-up costs, cloud / compute and open-source resource availability and increased commercial demand in multiple market verticals.

Figure – Artificial intelligence business distribution in Africa by the AI Media Group

Initial Conclusions 

  • The top 5 most “active” countries are South Africa, Tunisia, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt – this broadly maps to the top tech investment hubs in the region as indicated by analysts such as Maxime Bayen & Max Cuvellier.
  • We have a growing and dynamic AI / 4IR tech ecosystem in Africa with South Africa accounting for the most frequent country of origin for companies in this sector.
  • Johannesburg and the wider Gauteng region encompassing Pretoria appears to be the No.1 contender for the “AI Tech Capital of Africa” based on the organizations we have assessed so far which may (in part) be explained by greater B2B economic demand for such products and services, a mature tech entrepreneur / supplier ecosystem and commensurate skills and job opportunities with both buyer and supplier side entities. 

Bradshaw concluded, “A large vendor and partner ecosystem built around the likes of Microsoft, Google, AWS, IBM, Intel, Oracle & SAP who have historically had a significant operational footprint in South Africa may also account for the landscape we currently see.  This is by no means an exhaustive survey and the data is continually changing and evolving.  If you want to learn more about our analysis, we will be presenting our findings at AI Expo Africa 2021 ONLINE that will run as a three-day LIVE event 7-9 September.”

Delegates wishing to join this event can sign up for a FREE here https://aiexpoafrica.com/registration/ to hear from 80+ speakers / 40+ hours of talks via a 4 track speaking programme covering; innovation & strategy, platforms & process, case studies and technology demos. Show highlights will include;

  • Plenary Keynote from AI4Good Summit founder Stephen Ibaraki 
  • Plenary Keynote from AICE Africa founder John Kamara
  • Keynotes from our event partners NVIDIA, Intel & Telkom / BCX
  • National AI Strategy updates from Kenya, Tunisia, Brazil & USA
  • The story of creating Amazon’s Alexa by Al Lindsay
  • 50+ vendors in the virtual Expo Hall with live meeting functionality
  • Live networking lounge, meet -ups & business card swap 
  • Embassy of Switzerland SA e-Pavilion
  • Tshwane Economic Development Agency Destination e-Pavilion
  • Academic R&D posters located at the Telkom Innovation Wall
  • Get inspired to create art, music and new media in the NVIDIA AI Art Gallery
  • FREE resource centre with unique content, programmes & learning materials 

Learn more at www.aiexpoafrica.com 

 

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