Google’s next A.I. research center will be its first on the African continent

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Google has announced that it will open an artificial intelligence (AI) research center in Africa, its first on the continent.

The Silicon Valley giant said that the new research hub will open in Accra, Ghana, later this year, announcing the move in a blog post published on Wednesday.

“We’re committed to collaborating with local universities and research centers, as well as working with policy makers on the potential uses of AI in Africa,” Google’s blog post said.

Accra, located in the west of Africa, joins cities including Paris, New York and Tokyo, as well as Google’s Mountain View headquarters, in hosting an AI research center.

While the decision is the first of its kind for Google in Africa, the company has had offices on the continent for the past decade. It already operates a digital skills training program that it believes can ultimately benefit 10 million Africans. In addition, Google runs a separate initiative called Launchpad Accelerator Africa that it says supports 100,000 developers and over 60 technology startups in Africa.

But, Accra isn’t the only city in Africa positing itself as a tech hub. Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and Rwandan capital Kigali are both known for their credentials in tech development, for example. Meanwhile, Kenya has been singled out by Microsoft founder Bill Gates for its “pioneering” innovation of digital payments platform M-Pesa.

Ghana likely appealed to Google because of the quality of its education system and other feeder institutions, Lucy James, associate consultant with Control Risks’ Africa team, told CNBC via telephone on Thursday. The search company is focussed on “drawing in local talent and there’s no shortage of that in Ghana,” she said.

Ghana also enjoys relative political stability, James explained. Meanwhile, it’s neighbor Nigeria — the continent’s largest economy which also promotes business center Lagos as a burgeoning tech hub – is more prone to civil unrest.

Nonetheless, the choice may seem unusual given that Ghana ranks 12th for Sub-Saharan Africa in the World Bank’s latest Ease of Doing Business index. Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa – another of the continent’s big economies – all come in the top five by comparison.

But, Ghana’s pro-business government and entrepreneurial society may have contributed to its selection. People in Ghana share the “sense that you can disrupt something and make a difference,” James said.

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