On Tuesday, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $30 million investment in a new AI platform in Africa that it says will aid scientists in developing solutions for healthcare and social issues across the continent.
The foundation hopes the initiative will make AI, which Bill Gates has referred to as “the most important advance in technology since the graphical user interface,” more accessible to African researchers, paving the way for local innovation. It also aims to ensure the technology is developed safely, ethically and equitably. The new AI platform will include a data repository, as well as technical development and regulatory policy experts.
“The world needs to make sure that everyone-and not just people who are well-off- benefits from artificial intelligence. Government and philanthropy will need to play a major role in ensuring that it reduces inequity and doesn’t contribute to it. This is the priority for my own work related to AI,” Gates said in a blog post in March.
As interest in AI continues to grow, the foundation has pushed to bring the technology to low- and middle-income countries. In August, it announced it would spend $5 million to fund nearly 50 generative AI projects focusing on global health and development in countries like Pakistan and Brazil. Gates said that the new $30 million investment would help African innovators group together around some of the areas these projects have zeroed in on, including health, agriculture, financial services, and innovation, and help take their innovations to the next stage.
“Part of the goal is to have these applications that reduce inequity, not be 10 or 20 years later, have them be right on the cutting edge,” Gates said Tuesday at the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting–a conference that brings together funding and research partners-currently being held in Dakar, Senegal.
Gates also discussed the short-term challenges AI poses, including ensuring accuracy, copyright issues and deepfakes.
As for more long-term challenges, he said, “Our world is designed around scarcity; scarcity of doctors, teachers, food. If you ever get to a point where through AI, both robotic and a sort of white-collar AI, you’re performing a lot of those tasks, then human work is no longer necessary and then you have a problem of excess that is very, very different,” adding that “That’s not the problem we have today. We’re not even close to it, but this is the first technology that’s essentially unbounded in terms of how capable it gets.”
Bill Gates, with a fortune estimated by Forbes at $109.5 billion, currently ranks as the world’s ninth richest person. Gates and his ex-wife, Melinda French Gates, started the Gates Foundation in 2000 and have pledged billions in funding for vaccine research and development, gender equality and college scholarships. With assets of $67.3 billion as of December 2022, it is the largest private charitable foundation in the world. Last year, Gates said the foundation would likely run for just 25 more years.