Interview with Salomey Addo, A Ghanaian NLP Researcher

The following is an interview session with Salomey. She is a Data Scientist and an NLP Practitioner. And she gives us her take on women in data science, and work being done with Ghanaian languages in NLP.

Welcome Salomey and thank you for accepting our interview request. Could you tell us a bit about yourself, and your interest in Data Science ?

My name is Salomey Afua Addo, a product of the University of Ghana and the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Ghana.

Currently, I am a volunteer at Ghana NLP and a core team member of Artificial Intelligence Association Ghana. I also serve as a Data Scientist for Medscreen Missions Ghana, an NGO that seeks to improve the livelihood of people who live in under privileged areas in Ghana

Are there many ladies in the Data Science community in Ghana ?

Yes, there are a number of ladies doing amazing things in Data Science. Shout out to Pyladies Ghana!

What do you feel can be done to encourage more ladies in Ghana to join the field ?

I think active mentorship and motivation (in whatever form) could encourage more ladies to join Data Science.

What is Natural Language Processing ?

In my own words NLP is an art and science of enabling or designing machines or computers to understand and process human language.

What does an NLP Researcher do ?

An NLP researcher has a lot to do depending on the question they seek to answer. But basically, they collect and clean data, develop algorithms or use already made algorithms to answer the question they are interested in, afterwards they evaluate their model to check how to improve it next time.

Recently, we have seen an explosion of NLP based applications in European and Asian languages But we do not see as many African language NLP applications. Can you tell us why that is ?

Firstly, I will say there has not been much NLP based applications in African languages because we have not yet developed much interest in this regard. Also, we lack a lot of curated data to work with. Besides, our African language is not digitised as compared to, for instance English and Chinese. Thus it becomes hectic, time consuming and expensive getting curated data to feed models. Additionally, we lack enough human capital or local experts to do extensive NLP research on African Languages. Lastly, local organisations, businesses and African governments do not have much interest in funding such great initiatives, maybe they lack foresight in how AI can transform our economy or they are just not interested. You can’t blame them much.

Can you tell us a bit about Ghana NLP ?

Ghana NLP is an open source community made up of mostly Ghanaian Data Scientists and Data enthusiasts across the world. There is one thing we have in common, that is our goal to project African Languages on digital platforms for the good of all. Our first step is to build a translator for Twi using state of the art technologies such as Neural Networks. Afterwards, we extend our domain to other African Languages using similar methodology. So far we have crowd-sourced an appreciable number of parallel sentences (English and Twi) from the general public.

Other organisations such as Sankofa Tech and Global Open Initiative Foundation have shown interest in collaborating with us to generate more curated data. Indeed the future is exciting!

On the technical side, we have started building APIs for our Retrieval System and Neural Machine Translator. There is more in the pipeline and we hope all things being equal, we will soon release our English-Twi translator to the world.

What do you think can be done to grow the local NLP community ?

We need to create an awareness about the field, we need to demystify and throw more light on its applications and uses across all sectors such as business, education and health. There are many applications and opportunities to explore in NLP.

Do you have any final comments to share with our readers ?

Yes. It is a privilege to be given a voice, yeah. I will like to encourage young ones like me not to fear to step into the unknown. Be curious, don’t be intimidated to ask questions, ask for assistance when you need help. Learn as much as you can. Be yourself. Let love lead. Together we can make Africa a beautiful place to live.

Thank you Salomey

If you are interested in finding out more and discussing about Ghana NLP, join us for our upcoming Webinar

Authored By Omar Majdoub