The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation yesterday (Oct. 10) announced it will support the development of a new artificial intelligence (A.I.)-powered research and development platform in Africa with a $30 million commitment. The organization’s latest investment aligns with its recent focus on funding technological innovation, particularly as it relates to A.I., in low- and middle-income regions of the world.
The platform will support health and development research and solutions implementation by African scientists and innovators, according to the Gates Foundation, which is co-chaired by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates.
“It is a step towards ensuring the benefits of A.I .are relevant, affordable and accessible to everyone,” the organization, which is one of the world’s largest private charitable foundations with an endowment of $67.3 billion, said in a statement. It added that the platform will help ensure that “these critical tools are developed safely, ethically and equitably.”
The $30 million pledge, which will advance the platform while supporting other uses of A.I. for health and development, was announced during the 20th anniversary of the organization’s Grand Challenges initiative. Supported by the governments of China, India, Brazil, the U.S., Canada and African countries like Ethiopia, Senegal and Rwanda, the challenge centers on crowdsourcing solutions and open grant proposal requests. It has seen partners invest $1.6 billion in more than 3,800 projects since 2003.
The Gates Foundation and artificial intelligence
This isn’t the Gates Foundation’s first A.I.-focused pledge. In recent months, the organization has taken a vigorous approach to philanthropic uses of the new technology, which Bill Gates described as “revolutionary” in a March blog post. “The development of A.I. is as fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone,” wrote the billionaire, noting the potential applications of the technology to address inequities in lower-income nations. “The world needs to make sure that everyone—and not just people who are well-off—benefits from artificial intelligence.”
The world’s economy is predicted to expand by $16 trillion by 2030 due to the technology, according to the foundation. It has invested in dozens of A.I. projects focused on health and development, including granting $5 million in August toward nearly 50 A.I. proposals largely submitted from low- and middle-income nations.
Gates’ call for increased R&D funding
Bill Gates has additionally emphasized the need to fund research and development projects targeting diseases in poverty-stricken nations. Alongside the foundation’s announcement of its support for a new A.I. platform in Africa, it called for the world to spend $3 billion more annually on funding research of neglected diseases. “New health technologies have the potential to save millions of lives, but [research and development] funding is going in the wrong direction,” Gates said while speaking at the Gates Foundation’s Annual Grand Challenges Meeting. “Donors need to step up their commitments to ensure health innovations reach those who need them more quickly, so more lives can be saved.”
Earlier this week, the foundation announced another major investment—$40 million to advance mRNA vaccine manufacturing in low and middle-income countries, which could address infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and Lassa fever. Half of those funds will be funneled toward the biotech company Quantoom Biosciences, while vaccine manufacturing institutes in Senegal and South Africa will receive $5 million each and another $10 million will be earmarked for other vaccine manufacturers. The donations follow a previous $55 million investment in mRNA manufacturing technology.