By Asmau Ahmad with agency report
Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has said people across the world, especially Nigerians should be excited about Artificial Intelligence, especially in the area of health innovations and interventions.
The American business mogul said there was no need for people to be wary of AI, but should be happy as it could help speed up drug discoveries in major endemic diseases.
He said this in Lagos during a chat with selected journalists when he visited Nigeria.
Earlier, he had a robust, engaging conversation with young science and innovation champions in Africa hosted by the Co-creation Hub and the University of Lagos Business School in Ikeja, Lagos State.
During the forum, which was themed: “Advancing Africa: Unleashing the Power of Youth in Science and Innovation,” Mr Gates interacted with Nigerian innovators and encouraged them to see opportunities in challenges.
Gates during the media chat with six select journalists in one of the conference rooms in Marriott Hotel, Ikeja, noted that AI-driven improvements will benefit poor countries, where the vast majority of under-5 deaths are recorded.
He, however, said like all tech, it can be taken advantage of by criminal elements, adding, “We have to stay ahead to tackle such threat. This type of consciousness of people seeing the downside is great but there is also a need to see how incredible AI is and its potential.”
Gates revealed that one of the foundation’s key areas in AI is to ensure it is used for to tackle pressing health challenges that affect the poorest in low-income countries globally.
He described AI as the most important advancement in technology that he had witnessed since 80s and urged governments and philanthropists to create incentives for companies to share AI-generated insights into agriculture and pharmaceuticals.
The business mogul further said agricultural innovation is the only way to minimize the impact of climate change.
On malaria eradication and control, he said resources will be applied to impact areas in terms of innovations and tools.
He gave an assurance that areas like nutrition, polio control and eradication would remain focal points.
He, however, said such investments should be reflected in these intervention points, especially in the area of nutrition.
Gates held that financial inclusion can help to roll back poverty, mainly in the northern part of the country and can only be successfully achieved by working conscientiously with the government and people.
Speaking on vaccine production in Africa, the business mogul said such a venture is not one to be embarked on by small companies because of the trials involved, which are capital-intensive.
“It is a global thing guided by regulations, is complicated and can be very expensive,” Gates added.
Speaking further, he said for the vaccines brought into the country by the foundation, there is no black market for them, adding that if they are not effectively deployed, especially when it comes to routine immunisation, the lapses will show up with time.
“In the area of malaria and measles control. We see results and feel good that the money is being well spent,” he said.
Speaking on how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is able to keep a tab on the various intervention programmes going on simultaneously globally, especially in Africa, he said his work time is split into various categories to ensure an efficient work schedule.
He, however, said he is surrounded by competent teams, adding, “We have an incredible team that works with government and partners to achieve the foundation’s agenda. They are people with moral commitment. We engage the right people.”
The Microsoft co-founder stressed the need to bridge inequity in health, education and financial services, even as he expressed belief in the power of science and innovation to help people lead long, healthy lives.
“To do that, the people creating breakthroughs, funding them, and getting them into the world all need to prioritise equity. They are going to prevent infectious diseases, provide life-saving interventions for mothers and babies; make food more nutritious, and give women more convenient contraception options. Down the road, AI will be applied to bring quality healthcare and education to more people.”
Gates expressed optimism at the AI’s potential to save and improve lives but said it can only happen if the motive is not profit-driven.
He said, “So, our foundation is thinking about what we can do to help AI develop in ways that improve the lives and well-being of everyone, not just the wealthiest people in a few rich countries.
“The foundation has issued a call for proposals or what we call a “Grand Challenge” for innovative, safe uses of large language models.
“We received 1,300 proposals, and half of them were from Africa. The winners will be announced in Senegal in October.
“We hope what emerges will help build an evidence base for advancing equitable outcomes in health and development everywhere in the world.”