intervention du Directeur de l’Université Mohammed VI, Benguerir Hicham El Habti


Advanced Machine Learning Days – Africa

Your Excellencies, Ladies, Gentlemen, Esteemed Guests,

On behalf of Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, it is my honor to welcome you all on our Benguerir campus for the second edition of the African Advanced Machine Learning Days. I would like to particularly thank our friends and partners from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne for their leadership in making AMLD a scientific tradition in Africa and beyond.

I would like also to commend the efforts of members of the Moroccan – and more broadly African competencies within EPFL students and alumni, who have initiated this initiative and have found within UM6P Teams the best partners for such a successful event.

As a central framework of digital technology today, machine learning is the source of much speculation. Artificial Intelligence, its main paradigm, is already among us. The data-driven world we live in is marked by smart devices displaying many of the behaviors we thought were exclusive to mankind. We know it for instance when our phones suddenly suggest to us what to do based on the data we supply them with. Amid such disruptions, it is natural for audiences of all types to ask anxious questions about the place of machinery in our collective existence.

In academic communities such as ours, it is easy to dismiss such concerns as irrational. Yet it is also our duty as academics to reach out to the wider public to identify right from wrong. The fact of the matter is that machine learning has never been an end in itself in science and technology. Instead, one is better served by viewing it as a useful tool for catalyzing growth in all fields.

In the race against COVID-19, artificial intelligence was a defining factor in sorting through dense data points and anticipating scenarios. A necessity for developing the vaccine.

In the most distant agricultural regions in the world, artificial intelligence helps turn disparate weather and climate data into actionable recommendations for farmers. All accessible from a smartphone. 

Thanks to the capacity to process data at record speed, machine learning is today also a tool for cultural preservation. Dialects that never enjoyed the official status of languages can now be codified, learned and digitalized due to smart pattern recognition. The Moroccans in the audience speaking Darija certainly know what I am referring to.

Finding its roots in Computer Science and fueled by never-ending innovation, machine learning is also enabling emerging nations to leapfrog their way into progress. With a 43% Internet penetration rate, Africa is uniquely positioned to further benefit from the virtues of artificial intelligence in order to accelerate development. Just ten years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that Big Data would play a role in empowering Africa’s smallholder farmers by delivering reliable information. Just one piece of the puzzle in solving the continent’s food security dilemma.

At Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, digital technology is a core part of our DNA. It was therefore natural for us to nurture, very early on, research and education curricula intrinsically linked to artificial intelligence. Our Computer Science school tackles machine learning’s intricacies not just from a theoretical perspective, but from a practical one as well.

As an institution dedicated to African development, we have also made sure to tackle the ethical questions surrounding artificial intelligence in a continent with economic, social and cultural specificities.

The impact of machine learning on our future is the business of us all. I can find no better proof of that than in the diversity of speakers gathered before us today. Whether you are from government, the private sector or academia, you are confirming that debates on technology are better held with multiple perspectives. I am confident that these days will be full of learning and shared growth.

Thank you for your attention, and happy AMLD Africa to all.

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