Tag Archives: Google in Africa

Telling powerful African stories through color

African culture is joyful, expressive and vivid, and intrinsically linked to color – from rallying shades of liberation to evocative hues of optimism, color is embraced as an unspoken language. With a vibrant palette and gift for storytelling, as Africans, we tell powerful stories through color, and it is this unique phenomenon that led to the development of the ‘Colors of Africa’ project. This ambitious initiative shares stories from Africa by Africans.

Design Indaba collaborated with Google Arts & Culture on this brand-new, cross-continental project. In order to tell the full story of such a diverse continent, we approached 60 African creatives and asked them each to create a unique work that depicts their home country through the symbolism of color.

At the same time we asked what being African meant to them. The resulting works and thoughts offer personal insights into African lived experience and add the ever evolving kaleidoscope that is the African continent.

The stories of each creative have been woven into a colorful tapestry which is available on Google Arts & Culture. And this bespoke, online exhibit dives into the artist’s experience of their country – as well as navigating the intricacies of life as an African. In addition to the exhibits, you can spin the kaleidoscope to explore and collect the colors of Africa. Experience the different countries and travel through Africa guided by the eyes of local artists.

Each work is a personal and completely unique experience of a country. Discover some of the colors of Africa below:

I invite you to discover more about each artist and artwork on the dedicated hub on Google Arts & Culture, or travel through the kaleidoscope here and share your colors with the world.

How Scrolla is making news more accessible to South Africans

Editor’s note from Ludovic Blecher, Head of Google News Initiative Innovation:The GNI Innovation Challengeprogram, is designed to stimulate forward-thinking ideas for the news industry. The story below by Mungo Soggot, CEO of Scrolla, is part of an innovator seriessharing inspiring stories and lessons from funded projects.

The costs associated with paying for mobile phone data in many African countries are often incredibly high, making it prohibitive for lower income readers to access news. As our mission is to bring high quality news on mobile phones to underserved communities, we set out to create a new product for Scrolla.Africa which is light on data use. The new platform is called Scrolla Data Lite.

Our core readers are pay-as-you-go mobile users, who make up about 75% of the market in South Africa. We found that people on these expensive pay-as-you-go data services were extremely cautious about downloading anything or surfing online. So beyond using data for messaging services, the idea of browsing on mobiles for news is regarded as a privilege.

As a mobile-only investigative and political reporting outlet, we were operating on a shoestring budget when we launched, so the data use issue was not something we had the technical capacity to address. We decided it had to wait until we had evolved the prototype and our editorial colleagues — Everson Luhanga and Phillip van Niekerk — had established Scrolla’s editorial ethos.

Our big break came when we were selected for the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa in 2021. We had a rough outline of how we would design a separate “Data Lite” site, which we used as the basis for our application. The Data Lite site doesn’t contain video or audio, and has stripped back features allowing for faster scrolling. The goals were to compress stories and images as much as possible and to automate the process so that our small team didn’t have to learn a new Content Management System (CMS). As a recipient of funding, we could build a Data Lite site far quicker and better than would have otherwise been possible, and bring in external engineering expertise to design the new platform.

The site ended up saving readers 90% on the data costs of our “full fat” site, when we compare the 100 kilobytes on page downloads on Data Lite to our usual 1 megabyte. And this meant the Data Lite site gave us about a sixfold increase in traffic compared with the full data site. We couldn’t use video or audio on the new Data Lite site, which remains its only drawback. When it came to images, we gave the editorial team strict guidelines to minimize data use without compromising user experience. This left room for error, so we then built in additional automated safeguards which ensured that uploaded images didn’t risk leaving readers with a spike in data costs.

Alongside data costs, language is an additional barrier in South Africa, so we publish in Zulu as well as English. Crucially, the GNI funding allowed us to design a system where we could include our Zulu content, together with English (a second language in South Africa), on one platform. The site had to be super easy to navigate and allow users to toggle between English and Zulu.

Picture shows a screen grab from the Zulu language mobile phone app.

A screengrab of the Scrolla app featuring the Zulu language.

The biggest lesson we learned is it’s impossible to underestimate what a big deal these data costs are: to the extent that many readers are wary of downloading apps or touching the sort of advertisements which typically require a lot of data such as those with video. The GNI enabled us to build the site, and we're open to sharing the technology with other like-minded publications in Africa and beyond.

How AI is helping African communities and businesses

Editor’s note: Last week Google hosted the annual Google For Africa eventas part of our commitment to make the internet more useful in Africa, and to support the communities and businesses that will power Africa’s economic growth. This commitment includes our investment in research. Since announcing the Google AI Research Center in Accra, Ghanain 2018, we have made great strides in our mission to use AI for societal impact. In May we made several exciting announcements aimed at expanding these commitments.

Yossi Matias, VP of Engineering and Research, who oversees research in Africa, spoke with Jeff Dean, SVP of Google Research, who championed the opening of the AI Research Center, about the potential of AI in Africa.

Jeff: It's remarkable how far we've come since we opened the center in Accra. I was excited then about the talented pool of researchers in Africa. I believed that by bringing together leading researchers and engineers, and collaborating with universities and the wider research community, we could push the boundaries of AI to solve critical challenges on the continent. It’s great to see progress on many fronts, from healthcare and education to agriculture and the climate crisis.

As part of Google For Africa last week, I spoke with Googlers across the continent about recent research and met several who studied at African universities we partner with. Yossi, from your perspective, how does our Research Center in Accra support the wider research ecosystem and benefit from it?

Yossi: I believe that nurturing local talent and working together with the community are critical to our mission. We've signed research agreements with five universities in Africa to conduct joint research, and I was fortunate to participate in the inauguration of the African Master of Machine Intelligence (AMMI) program, of which Google is a founding partner. Many AMMI graduates have continued their studies or taken positions in industry, including at our Accra Research Center where we offer an AI residency program. We've had three cohorts of AI residents to date.

Our researchers in Africa, and the partners and organizations we collaborate with, understand the local challenges best and can build and implement solutions that are helpful for their communities.

Jeff: For me, the Open Buildings initiative to map Africa's built environment is a great example of that kind of collaborative solution. Can you share more about this?

Yossi: Absolutely. The Accra team used satellite imagery and machine learning to detect more than half a billion distinct structures and made the dataset available for public use. UN organizations, governments, non-profits, and startups have used the data for various applications, such as understanding energy needs for urban planning and managing the humanitarian response after a crisis. I'm very proud that we are now scaling this technology to countries outside of Africa as well.

Jeff: That's a great achievement. It's important to remember that the solutions we build in Africa can be scalable and useful globally. Africa has the world's youngest population, so it's essential that we continue to nurture the next generation of tech talent.

We must also keep working to make information accessible for this growing, diverse population. I’m proud of our efforts to use machine translation breakthroughs to bring more African languages online. Several languages were added to Google translate this year, including Bambara, Luganda, Oromo and Sepedi, which are spoken by a combined 85 million people. My mom spoke fluent Lugbara from our time living in Uganda when I was five—Lugbara didn't make the set of languages added in this round, but we're working on it!

Yossi: That's just the start. Conversational technologies also have exciting educational applications that could help students and businesses. We recently collaborated with job seekers to build the Interview Warmup Tool, featured at the Google For Africa event, which uses machine learning and large language models to help job seekers prepare for interviews.

Jeff: Yossi, what’s something that your team is focused on now that you believe will have a profound impact on African society going forward?

Yossi: Climate and sustainability is a big focus and technology has a significant role to play. For example, our AI prediction models can accurately forecast floods, one of the deadliest natural disasters. We're collaborating with several countries and organizations across the continent to scale this technology so that we can alert people in harm's way.

We're also working with local partners and startups on sustainability projects including reducing carbon emissions at traffic lights and improving food security by detecting locust outbreaks, which threaten the food supply and livelihoods of millions of people. I look forward to seeing many initiatives scale as more communities and countries get on board.

Jeff: I'm always inspired by the sense of opportunity in Africa. I'd like to thank our teams and partners for their innovation and collaboration. Of course, there’s much more to do, and together we can continue to make a difference.