This has been an interesting year, with the rest of the world starting to wake up to the power and potential of AI. Fortunately, the African AI community has been waking up for the last few years, in time to make sure that Africa has a seat at this very important table. The 2023 Deep learning Indaba highlighted this beautifully, with Ghana hosting the largest gathering of African machine learners ever seen!

At a global scale, we may still be a small contributor to machine learning, relatively speaking, but we are growing fast. And we have a secret weapon: community. It is a young, vibrant, energetic, and exceptionally talented community! This means that we are all continuously learning together, growing together, and building together. 

One of my favourite aspects of the annual Indaba is seeing friends reunite from all over the continent, talking about life, studies, and research. It always strikes me that I know of no other setting, at all, where so many people meet and get to know each other from so many different African countries. This is the beating heart of our community, and crossing borders to come together at this scale is symbolic of the barriers we need to be breaking to empower our continent!

We are strong when united, and in this way we must keep pushing at the constraints that limit us. We must continue to focus on building hubs of critical mass, both physical and virtual, all over Africa. We must grow these rich spaces for new ideas to thrive and curious minds to flourish. When we achieve this, we will fully unlock our potential.

As we develop as a community, it is crucial for us to make sure that we are not just consumers of the latest machine learning techniques that have been developed elsewhere. While we should absolutely be solving African problems using the best methods available, it is also important that core theoretical work in the field is being done in Africa at the same scale as in the rest of the world. We too can contribute to the global knowledge base, and other parts of the world should look to our science for inspiration. Let us ensure that the sharing of knowledge is not asymmetrical.

As we move into 2024, let us ask ourselves what it would take for the next great breakthroughs in our field to come from Africa, and then let us build to make that happen!

But now, with the year drawing to a close, remember how important it is to take some time off and let your mind truly rest. We are living through exciting and fast moving times, but the pace and intensity always takes a toll on us. Reward yourself for the challenges you have made it through over the last year, and remind yourself to appreciate the beauty of the simple things in life, to take some time to breathe, enjoy being with your loved ones, and be at peace with yourself.

– Benjamin Rosman, Co-founder and Member of the Executive Board for the Deep Learning Indaba. Co-founder of Lelapa AI and Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. November 2023.