A renowned Mathematician, Professor Barry Green, who is the current Director of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in South Africa, has eulogised the late Mathematician Ghana once had.
Professor Francis Allotey was a great Ghanaian Mathematician who died in 2017 at the of 85.
Prof Green, in a chat on the sidelines at the recent launch of the African Masters in Machine Intelligence (AMMI) in Kigali, praised Prof Allotey for his great contribution towards mathematics and science on the continent.
Prof Green, who doubles as the Chief Academic and Research Officer for the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS NEI), said the role of the late Prof was an important one and was the one people who played a critical role in the establishment of AIMS.
That visionary idea of Prof Allotey of doing something in Africa and with Africa is not only a Ghanaian idea. He identified growth in Mathematics and helped to chart the path for it.
“The vision of Prof Allotey; he saw something there that was good for the growth for Ghana and all of Africa together.” From the very beginning was one of the patrons at AIMS.
“Professor Francis Alottey, he is a very great Scientist in Africa, not only that, he was very visionary about the growth of science, mathematics and physics with good standards, and so he was very supportive of AIMS, and, of course, he was the first President of AIMS in Ghana.”
Role of Ghana towards AIMs
“The role of Ghana in AIMS has been extremely important in other ways which are more important.”
There is also the Square Kilometers Area (SKA) project, which is a big project that is involved in astronomy and physics, which is also linked to Ghana. “Ghana is one of the countries involved where they have people who are interested in cosmology.”
Speaking about the interest of Ghanaian youth in mathematics and sciences, he said there have been overwhelming applications from Ghana.
Professor Barry Green gives insights into Mathematical Science in Africa
Professor Barry, whose field is Mathematics, which includes Algebra and number theory, has spent many years working at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, where he taught mathematics.
Highlighting on the theme of AIMS as the Chief in charge of Academics and Research at all the AIMS centres, he said the whole focus was to empower talented young Africans in mathematics or sciences, so they could make a contribution, whether to the industries or academia or research or teaching at schools, in many areas, because mathematics is quite universal and it is used in many areas.
According to him, the AIMS Centre in South Africa, one of the topics they decided to focus on, was modelling for diseases bio-mathematics, and financial mathematics
Prof Green said these topics are undertaken through scientific computation, “where you have a lot some fundamental Mathematics; where you will have some pure mathematics involved, but also where there is an application in computational areas.”
So we took it as an overall theme, mathematical modelling in a multi-disciplinary contest, so anyone could use the master module.
Citing an example that when somebody studying and working with astrophysics, astronomy or whether working in financial mathematics or bio-mathematics, disease modelling, you will have a lot of data. “Of course, you need data to see what is happening with the population, in terms of the development of the sickness and how many are doing better, how many is acceptable.”
“When you are working with the financial markets, and you are looking at trading, shares and so on, there is a lot of data that is involved, so you got to start having methods, and especially in astronomy, you get huge amounts of data that is coming out from your observation, and you have got to analyse to make some predictions about the universe.”
According to him, one of the things you will need to do is to have the methods that can do this, and these are often involved in using statistics and algorithm to make predictions. So that is the beginning of Machine Learning.
He said: “Machine learning gives you a set of techniques which help you when one wants to analyse a situation with a lot of data, and where you want to make quick decisions often, but you have not got the physical power to make that calculation. You can use data to create a fairer system, in terms of decisions people make; you still need people to make these decisions, but the data and analysis you make help you to make an important decision.”
Another area is climate science weather patterns and expectations of drought.
How AIMS started
Aims South Africa started in 2003 and is currently in Ghana, Senegal and Rwanda.
He was hopeful that very soon the AIMS centres will spread across Africa.
He debunked the assertion that women do not like Science and Mathematics, adding that at AIMS they want equal gender representation to pursue the master’s programme, which they currently have about 40%.
“Given the overall international trend of women in Mathematics, then it was good statistics, but it could be better,” he said.
He said the reason the intake of women has been impressive was that they select the many candidates from all over Africa who apply to come to AIMS, so they make good selections to also ensure that women are represented.
Being an optimist, Professor Barry said Africa was not lagging behind when it comes to Machine Intelligence. “I wouldn’t say we are lagging behind, but I would say, maybe, we have a lot of obstacles in the way. Obstacles in our way which sometimes makes a secondary decision, whether we are going to pursue this with our whole heart or whether we have the means to do it because we have got other responsibilities.”
“I think it is an area we are equally able as anywhere else in China, Japan, America, Australia to make a serious contribution, and I think we should do this by offering opportunities to those who are most interested, by giving them some of the best people to help and encourage that.”
“I think AIMS is doing a very important job in Africa, but I think AIMS is small by comparing to what has to been done because we have got a huge continent.”
He said politicians in Africa have to be a little bit more honest about the real contribution they make to the future generation, saying, “I mean they have to put value where there is a possibility by providing scholarships, for example, it should not be a completely free sort of gift.”
If you are talented, then you should be given the opportunity to grow. Politicians should have a dedicated drive to enable the youth, and recognition of curiosity-driven work, people that are wanting to follow an idea because often they are the areas somebody may have a breakthrough.
Answering about the paranoia that MI is going to deprive people of their jobs, Professor Barry was hopeful that it was rather going to create more jobs for people. “What we have to be sure of is the way it is used to the benefit of society, and not to control society, so of course, security agencies can use MI to know exactly what their population is, and can monitor many different things.
On how he expects graduates to impact on society, Prof Green indicated that the experience with AIMS is an innovative experience which will be utilised since there is a strong network to grow.
He said AIMS has made significant impacts, and aside that, many universities on the continent do not have PhD lecturers, but after AIMS, well over 100 lecturers have got PhDs and are lecturing all over in Africa.
He boasted that one of their products from the South Africa branch of AIMS, who graduated in 2010 and did a Masters in Financial Maths, is currently being offered an Assistant Professorship at Branston University, so he is in the top league in his field.
He mentioned Prof Franck Kalaka Mutombo, a product of AIMS South Africa, who is currently the head of Academics at Senegal and doubles as a Researcher.
He said Mr Mutombo is also up in his league and has come back to Africa to make a remarkable impact.
Challenges of AIMS
For challenges of AIMS, he said, so far, their challenges have to do with sustainability and having to rise in Academics and the students as well, for them to believe it can be done here and have confidence in ourselves.
Another challenge is to see more women lecturing, so they are attracting more women into the student groups.
He advised that more consertive efforts to be made to identify, highlight and push into the frontline capable women.
“When you get pushed into the front of something, it is tough, you are challenged,” he said.