We have been talking about AI extensively lately, and it appears that we will be exploring the topic even more in the coming months. Strive Masiyiwa’s assertion that AI could have a magnitude of impact comparable to the Industrial Revolution means we can’t help but dig more into it.
It was with this understanding that I made my way to a Unicaf-organised event which asked a simple question: is Zimbabwe AI-ready?
Many people now understand that AI is a big deal. It does appear as if it will substantially change the world as we know it. That’s almost certain. What’s not guaranteed is that everyone will benefit from this progress.
Even Strive Masiyiwa in his interview with James Manyika stressed that Zimbabwe has to participate rather than just consume. There is a real danger we will be left behind.
So, what does it mean to be AI-ready?
It simply means being in a position to benefit from the progress that AI is set to/already bringing.
At the event, the question arose about Zimbabwe’s AI-readiness, addressed to both the panellists and the audience. At the beginning of the session, an informal vote was taken, and the majority responded negatively. They believed that Zimbabwe was not prepared.
Following a comprehensive discussion of the topic, the number of individuals convinced of Zimbabwe’s readiness decreased even further.
Now, it is important to stress that when people say Zimbabwe is not ready, they do not mean that no one is/will benefit from AI in the country. They mean that many/if not most people are nowhere near taking advantage of what AI has to offer.
Who were these people saying Zimbabwe is not ready?
On the panel were the CEO of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Econet’s Digital Innovations Manager, an Old Mutual Digital Services InsureTech Product Manager, an Arrupe Jesuit University lecturer and a senior specialists consultant with the Business Intelligence MedScheme Holdings. The facilitator was Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa.
A sad infrastructure story
They raised more or less the points that many have been raising for a while. We need access to computers and more importantly, the internet, to fully utilise AI. Unfortunately, we live in a country where, according to the latest Potraz ICT sector report;
- the internet penetration rate is 65.2%
- the mobile penetration rate stands at 91.9% however,
- the last ICT Access by Households and Individuals report by ZimStat and Potraz shows that only 58.8% of households have smartphones
- only 14.2% of the population has a computer according to the same report
A significant number of Zimbabweans do not have the devices or internet access to use AI. Most of those who do have devices only have smartphones.
If you then consider that only 53% of Zimbabwean households have access to electricity, you see just how dire the situation is. How are these people supposed to enjoy the benefits of AI when they have feature phones and no electricity?
I think they can still enjoy some benefits from AI without them using the technology themselves. If the government and the private sector utilise AI to improve efficiency and lower costs, this could lead to cheaper goods and better service delivery even in rural areas.
That’s the best-case scenario but it still does not compare to them utilising AI for their own purposes, which would be ideal.
The Old Mutual example
Nyandoro, the Old Mutual Digital Services InsureTech Product Manager gave us an example of how they were able to reduce man-hours in one department by 92%. This was repetitive work which AI does way better than humans.
So we can see how some companies and individuals will benefit. This Old Mutual efficiency gains will lead to job losses but the best-case scenario is that this reduction in costs could lead to price revisions which would benefit many people.
What do you think though? Could you say Zimbabwe is ready to take advantage of what AI has to offer? If not, what do you think needs to be done to get us ready? The better question is HOW could Zimbabwe prepare for AI?