Federal Government Hosts Workshop to Forge National Artificial Intelligence Strategy

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As part of the ongoing efforts to advance the priority areas outlined in the current administration’s Renewed Hope Agenda, particularly focusing on Accelerating Diversification through Industrialization, Digitization, Creative Arts, Manufacturing, and Innovation, the Federal Ministry of Communications, Innovation, and Digital Economy has taken the initiative to convene a workshop. This workshop aims to collaboratively craft a National Artificial Intelligence Strategy, employing a Human-Centered Design (HCD) approach to ensure that the strategy addresses not only the specific needs of Nigeria but also contributes to global advancement.

The four-day stakeholders’ strategy workshop, themed “Developing the High-Level Strategy and Implementation Plan for a National AI Strategy in Nigeria,” brought together key players from various sectors, including private industry, public institutions, and global experts. During the workshop, participants engaged in intensive discussions on the transformative potential of AI in reshaping societies on a global scale.

In his opening address, Dr. ‘Bosun Tijani, the Minister of Communications, Innovation, and Digital Economy, underscored the collective responsibility of all participants in leveraging AI for the betterment of humanity. He urged them to envision a future where connectivity and innovation act as drivers for both national and global progress.

Dr. Tijani also emphasized the significant impact of digital technology on human interactions and societal norms, highlighting the importance of inclusive participation in shaping the development path of AI.

“Digital technologies are also quite transformational because of their scope. Not only do they connect, but they allow us to transform nearly every aspect of our lives as humans,” he added.

The Minister stressed the importance of inclusive dialogue and collaboration as fundamental aspects of shaping a future where AI is utilized for the common good. He emphasized the need for unity among participants and encouraged them to welcome divergent perspectives that may arise during their discussions on AI development.

In urging participants to surpass ideological disparities and adopt a vision of AI that surpasses national borders, Dr. Tijani stated, “I challenge each of us participating in this workshop not to confine our focus solely to strategies for developing AI limited to Nigeria or Africa, but to envision solutions that benefit the entire world.”

“Let us show leadership globally so that the world could be converging and not diverging when we talk AI  because these set of technology tools and products that will be built from this workshop can be used across borders,” he noted.

During his remarks, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Engr. Faruk Yusuf Yabo, highlighted the transformative potential of AI across various sectors of Nigeria’s economy. He noted that AI could revolutionize healthcare, boost productivity in agriculture, improve government operational efficiency, and enhance educational development.

“As we gather here, we are not just proud of this strategy for Nigeria, we are laying the foundation for the future where AI is going to be an integral part of all aspects of Nigerians’ lives.”

He said, “It is essential that we develop a strategy that is not only theoretically sound but also practical and implementable within the general context, while taking into cognisance, our cultural values, traditions, norms and specific needs to increase our national security and sovereignty.”

In his welcome address earlier, the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa CCIE, emphasized the importance of viewing AI not merely as a technological tool but as a catalyst for broader societal transformation. He underscored the necessity of harnessing the transformative power of AI for the advancement of Nigerian society. In particular, he stressed the importance of not only developing a strategy for AI but also developing a strategy that incorporates AI itself.

“Our vision for this strategy is clear. It is to harness the power of AI to derive values from it while harnessing its potential and avoiding its errors,” he noted.

In acknowledging that technology resembles a double-edged sword, with both promises and pitfalls, Inuwa emphasized that the workshop’s uniqueness lies in more than just discussion; it involves actively sharing ideas through cognitive processes.

“This approach is fundamental because it will enable us to harness our diverse insights and expertise in crafting a strategy that is inclusive and reflective of our national consensus,” he stated.

The NITDA DG asserted that the strategy would contribute significantly to advancing the economic transformation outlined by the President. This transformation encompasses priority areas such as national security, agricultural enhancement for food security, GDP growth, unlocking energy and transportation potentials, and improving the healthcare sector, among others.

“Our success depends on our ability to work together across government, academia, industry and civil society in bringing our unique perspectives to this strategy which will help us craft not just an innovative strategy but a practicable and implementable strategy that will lay a foundation for a prosperous nation for Nigerians,” he concluded.

The workshop’s highlight included breakout sessions where industry and global experts shared insights on various aspects such as contextualizing AI strategy, establishing directional beacons for Nigeria’s AI, and developing a national vision and goal setting for AI in the country.

At the workshop’s conclusion, participants, organized into syndicates covering diverse areas including AI Ethics and Social Impact, AI Infrastructure and Ecosystem in Talent, AI Talent and Workforce Development, AI Research and Innovation, AI Adoption and Sector Focus, AI Policy and Governance, AI International Collaboration and Engagement, and AI Safety and Regulations, presented on strategic initiatives, roadmap development, and thematic visioning essential for crafting a robust AI Strategy document.

During his vote of thanks, Dr. Tijani expressed gratitude to organizations such as NITDA, Nigerian Communications Commission, Galaxy Backbone, Nigeria Data Protection Commission, Data Science Nigeria, Microsoft, Google, Meta, academia, and numerous public and private entities for their invaluable contributions to the workshop’s success. He also conveyed his excitement over the active engagement and extensive sharing of ideas and experiences among participants, expressing confidence that a robust National AI Strategy, beneficial not only to Nigeria but also to the world, would be developed.

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