Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s push towards technology is gaining momentum and has now gone a step further by investing in Artificial Intelligence (AI) as evidenced by the recently launched laboratory in the capital, Dodoma.
The push aims to benefit the country in the areas of development of AI infrastructures, healthcare, digital economy and environmental conservation and agriculture, among others.
The three-year project is known as the multidisciplinary Artificial Intelligence for Development of Africa’s Anglophone research lab.
The laboratory will be co-hosted by the University of Dodoma (Udom) and the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST).
The Sh1.8-billion project is implemented through the Artificial Intelligence for Development in Africa under the funding of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
In an exclusive interview with The Citizen, the principal investigator of the project to establish the Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in Africa’s Anglophone Multidisciplinary Research Lab, Dr Ally Nyamawe, said the four were the country’s key priority areas. “We must pay special attention and a keen eye to the health sector that is facing numerous challenges especially after the outbreak of Covid-19,” he said.
He said good health translates into assured productivity at both the country and global levels.
The Udom don said AI infrastructures need to be developed in various parts of the country in order to reap the accompanying benefits.
According to him, AI will enable the country to realise its intention to build and benefit with the vibrant digital economy as well as transforming the nation’s manufacturing sector.
“This will be done by using AI to facilitate the promotion of the small scale enterprises to middle and large enterprises,” he said.
Furthermore, he said as the world embraces the fourth industrial revolution, Tanzania would not lag behind but keep abreast the global pace.
In environmental conservation and agriculture, Dr Nyamawe said AI aims at preventing disastrous interaction between humans and animals.
“Agriculture is another area touching the majority of Tanzanians as about 70 percent engage in agriculture. AI will enable the country increase production and access the global market,” he said.
According to him, the project has gathered experience from different development countries where AI has enabled them to produce driverless cars and carry disease diagnosis and treatment.
Similarly, he said agriculture that has always been referred to as the country’s backbone requires better weather forecasts something that will significantly improve through the introduction and fully use of technology.
He said the key mandates of the launched laboratory would hinge on research, capacity building through training experts and innovation that will ultimately provide solutions to challenges facing different sectors in the country.
“For us to achieve this ambitious goal, it was imperative that we have a modern laboratory. We are now looking to have pre-requisite equipment before commencing implementation of the project objectives,” he said.
However, Dr Nyamawe said AI wasn’t a new aspect to the country, noting however that despite its presence in developed countries, Africa including Tanzania haven’t exploited the benefits fully compared to developed countries.
He said there were various local institutions that now use AI for disease diagnosis, wildlife monitoring and management as well as mines using the technology for identifying tired drivers who need resting time in order to prevent accidents.
Speaking on the technology, Imara Technology managing director Alfred Chengula said any technological decision aimed at improving production, efficiency and competitiveness should be taken up positively.
“However, more time is required to change the culture of Tanzanians and accept the changes. I should encourage those behind the project because this is a new technology to the community,” Mr Chengula said.
But, Blueswitch chief executive officer Salum Mvano said the term AI was broad and that it could be substituted with the concept of Information Communication Technology (ICT).
“AI means replacing human beings with machineries. For example, it calls for installation of irrigation systems that would automatically operate executing the various tasks on the farm instead of farmers,” he said.
“Similarly, weeding equipment could be programmed and get the job done, record important information that could have been done by farmers,” Mr Chengula added.
He said such technological advancements requires huge investment and resource mobilisation for the country to have enough servers for data and reliable electricity that would prevent disruptions of operations.
According to him, Tanzania still has a long way to go, but the spirit is high and the political will does exist.