Microsoft has opened a new research institute in Nairobi, its first in the continent, which will be housed at the newly opened African Development Centre (ADC) offices in Wetlands’ Dunhill Towers. “Digital technology is transforming work, and deep scientific innovation is required to enable productive and sustainable futures for everyone,” said Jaime Teevan, Chief Scientist for Microsoft.
The Microsoft Africa Research Institute (MARI) will be at the forefront of inventing new technologies to advance scientific knowledge in the field of computer science. It will conduct cutting edge research in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Systems and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). MARI will forge new synergies between research, engineering, and product development to power globally relevant innovation.
The institute will collaborate closely with Microsoft East Africa and the ADC to forge strategic alliances and links with local academia to boost the country’s and region’s research capabilities in the tech sphere, with three focus areas on health, work, and society.
“Kenya is leading the way in the transformation of work” said Dr. Jacki O’Neill, the founding director of MARI during the launch. “At MARI our mission is to understand, build and deploy innovative cloud and AI technologies which not only address core opportunities in Africa and help solve local challenges at scale, but which also contribute to creating a more productive future of work, health and society globally,”
The MARI has already assembled a multidisciplinary team of Nairobi-based researchers, designers, data scientists, and software engineers. This team has completed its first scientific project on the digital transformation of African small and medium-sized businesses, examining how work practices in Africa have changed since COVID, and will soon release the findings.
Looking ahead, the institute is working on several projects, including Swahili (and Sheng) language technology, exploring how AI can extend healthcare beyond the clinic, and technology innovation to support digital transformation in the Covid era.
It also announced that three PhD fellowships have been awarded to African university students who will intern at MARI in 2022. The institute will offer a visiting researcher program, summer schools, and a venue for student projects. The new ADC offices will also house the Microsoft Garage, a new entity structured as a freeform workspace where Microsoft employees, interns, schools, and community groups can find the tools and training they need to launch products and learn skills. The Garage has locations in Boston, Vancouver, Israel, India, and China.