MIT Technology Review –
Sitting in a hotel lobby in Tangier, Morocco, Charity Wayua laughs as she recounts her journey to the city for a conference on technology and innovation. After starting her trip in Nairobi, Kenya, where she leads one of IBM’s two research centers in Africa, she had to fly past her destination for a layover in Dubai, double back to Casablanca, and then take a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Tangier. What would have been a seven- to eight-hour direct flight was instead a nearly 24-hour odyssey. This is not unusual, she says.
The hassle of traveling within the region isn’t the only thing making things difficult for Africa’s research community: the difficulty of traveling out of the region has often left its researchers out of the international conversation. While these issues have affected every scientific field, they are amplified in AI research. The pace of innovation means, for example, that repeatedly missing conferences over visa problems—which have made it hard for African scientists to attend some of the world’s largest AI events in the US and Canada—can easily cause a researcher to fall behind.