Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s push towards technology is gaining momentum and has now taken it a step further by investing in artificial intelligence (AI) as evidenced by the recently launched lab in the capital, Dodoma.
This batch aims to benefit the country in the areas of developing artificial intelligence infrastructures, healthcare, digital economy, environmental preservation and agriculture, among others.
The three-year project is known as Interdisciplinary Artificial Intelligence to grow the English-speaking research laboratory in Africa.
The lab will be jointly hosted by the University of Dodoma and the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST).
The Sh 1.8 billion project is being implemented by Artificial Intelligence for Development in Africa with funding from the International Development Research Center (IDRC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
In an exclusive interview with The Citizen, Principal Investigator of the Creating Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) project at the Interdisciplinary English Language Research Laboratory in Africa, Dr Ali Nyamwi, said the four areas were the main priority areas in the country. He said, “We must pay special attention and a keen eye to the health sector, which is facing many challenges, especially after the outbreak of Covid-19.”
He said that good health translates into guaranteed productivity at the national and global levels.
Udom don said AI infrastructures need to be developed in different parts of the country in order to reap the attendant benefits.
According to him, AI will enable the country to realize and benefit from its intent to build a vibrant digital economy as well as transform the country’s manufacturing sector.
“This will be done using artificial intelligence to facilitate the upgrading of small enterprises into medium and large enterprises,” he said.
Moreover, he said that as the world embraces the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Tanzania will not lag behind but will keep pace with the global pace.
In the field of environmental conservation and agriculture, Dr. Nyamoy said AI aims to prevent catastrophic human-animal interaction.
“Agriculture is another area that touches the majority of Tanzanians with about 70 percent of them working in agriculture. Artificial intelligence will enable the country to increase production and access the global market,” he said.
According to him, the project has brought together expertise from different development countries where artificial intelligence has enabled them to produce driverless cars and carry out the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
Likewise, he said, agriculture, which has always been referred to as the backbone of the country, requires better weather forecasts, something that would be greatly improved through the introduction and full use of technology.
He said that the main tasks of the launched laboratory will depend on research and capacity building through expert training and innovation that will eventually provide solutions to the challenges facing the various sectors in the country.
“For us to achieve this ambitious goal, it was necessary to have a modern laboratory. We are now looking to acquire the pre-requisite equipment before we start implementing the project goals.
However, Dr. Nyamoy said that AI was not a new aspect to the country, noting that despite its presence in developed countries, Africa including Tanzania has not fully exploited the benefits compared to developed countries.
He said that many local institutions are now using artificial intelligence to diagnose diseases and monitor and manage wildlife as well as mines using technology to identify tired drivers who need time to rest in order to prevent accidents.
Speaking of technology, Imara Technology Managing Director Alfred Chingula said that any technical decision aimed at improving production, efficiency and competitiveness should be taken positively.
However, more time is needed to change the culture of Tanzanians and accept the changes. I have to encourage those behind the project because this is a new technology for society,” said Mr. Chengula.
But, Blueswitch CEO Salom Mvano said that the term AI is broad in scope and could be replaced by the concept of Information Communication Technology (ICT).
Artificial intelligence means replacing humans with machines. For example, it calls for the installation of irrigation systems that would operate automatically to carry out various tasks on the farm instead of the farmers.
“Similarly, weeding equipment can be programmed and get the job done, recording important information the farmers could have done,” Mr. Chengula added.
He said such technological developments require huge investments and mobilization of resources for the country to have adequate data servers and reliable electricity that would prevent disruptions to operations.
According to him, Tanzania still has a long way to go, but the spirit is high and the political will is there.
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