(Photo: This Is Africa)

19-Year-Old Betelhem Dessie Is Making Waves At Ethiopia's First AI Lab

When she was nine years old, Betelhem Dessie wanted to celebrate her birthday, but her father didn't give her the money.

So, she decided to earn money her own way. Betelhem, making use of the materials around her — her father sold electronics in their home city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia — started doing small tasks, like video editing and sending music to customer's cell phones.

(Photo: This Is Africa)

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According to her:

"I got about 90 dollars, then I celebrated my birthday."

That's how Betelhem began her journey into technology. Today, she coordinates a number of nationwide programs run by robotics lab, iCog, the Addis Ababa-based artificial intelligence (AI) lab that was involved in developing the world-famous Sophia the robot. She also has four software programs copyrighted to her name — including an app developed for the Ethiopian government to map rivers used for irrigation.

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Among the programs that Betelhem leads are "Solve IT", which works with young people to find technological solutions to community based problems; and "Anyone Can Code", which teaches young Africans the basics of artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain and other emerging technologies.

(Photo: CNN)

She and a group of teachers travel all around the country working with students (some up to five years her senior) to inspire the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. And she says her age is a plus, because she and her colleagues are  "more in touch with what the students are experiencing."

Betelhem is not slowing down. She is currently looking for funding for a project called "The Sophia School Bus". She explains:

"The bus will go around Ethiopia equipped with laptops and other electronic materials such as 3D printers to create more awareness on these technologies - using Sophia as a brand to attract."
With the help of Sophia the robot, she hopes to inspire the next generation of coders in Ethiopia and across Africa, especially girls:
"The boys imagine more, they want to do something that's big and inspired, the girls they really want to help their community from the core."
We stan a young genius. 

Betelhem Dessie carries a prototype of Sophia the robot at iCog Labs (Photo: Thomas Lewton)

By Olanrewaju Eweniyi, published on 15/10/2018

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