Villagers from Murewa and Uzumba burst into laughter as a Cabinet minister told them that government anticipated the use of latest digital technology in herding cattle and doing some household chores as the country fast catches up with the latest trends.
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
It sounded almost comical to all those that attended this year’s edition of the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day at Murewa Centre as ICT and Cyber Security minister Supa Mandiwanzira spoke highly of the country’s plans to embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI).
“There is nothing like that. I have never heard that a mobile phone can be used to track cattle in the plains,” said one villager in disbelief.
Artificial Intelligence refers to the use of machines including computers to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence such as visual perception and decision making, among others.
According to Mandiwanzira, it was high time the country adopted the latest technologies that will see rural farmers having devices that track their domestic livestock as well as doing household chores.
“Today, however, robots are increasingly used across all sectors and for a wide range of tasks, from precision agriculture to nursing. Rapid progress in robotics will soon make collaboration between humans and machines an everyday reality. Moreover, because of other technological advances, robots are becoming more adaptive and flexible.
“Advances in sensor technologies are enabling robots to understand and respond better to their environment and to engage in a broader variety of tasks such as household chores. When the next generation of robots emerges, they will likely reflect an increasing emphasis on human-machine collaboration,” he said.
The world is moving at a faster pace, with Zimbabwe slowly introducing ICTs in rural areas through distribution of computers and other electronic gadgets in schools.
However, some rural areas are still to get connected due to unavailability of ICT infrastructure.
China recently disbursed $71 million to government for the development of ICT infrastructure that will see the establishment of more boosters in the rural areas in a move meant to improve connectivity.
Speaking in Murewa, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) director-general Gift Machengete said it was now time for farmers to engage AI-based applications in their daily activities.
“An area like Murewa has a lot of farmers who are into both crop farming and animal husbandry. Why not introduce ICT and AI-based applications to help this category of farmers improve their turnover and at the same time creating traffic and a value-generating base?
“In the case of animal husbandry, the farmers surely all have an inert demand for technology that can help them in monitoring animal health, physiological cycles, location, security, among other data, so as to shorten the time between breeding and thereby increase breeding efficiency and farm productivity in general. Livestock theft and animal loss will be dramatically reduced and even looking for cattle would be transformed as the farmer will be connected to his animals on real time basis,” he said.
United States-based ICT expert Samuel Chindaro said Zimbabwe needed to address basic ICT requirements first before setting eyes on AI.
“Zimbabwe needs to address the basic ICT requirements, which include access to mainstream media and basic ICT facilities before implementing high-level artificial intelligence. It is a good thing to aspire for it and teach kids about it
“For example, ICT policy in education should be developed as a separate policy to promote ICT in schools — as a priority. Use of ICT in schools will open up the world to the youths and provide information and resources which will reduce the need for textbooks for every school subject; equipping teachers with multiple-teaching resources,” said Chindaro.
Recently, former ICT minister and MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa during his election campaigns bemoaned how the country was lagging behind as far as ICTs were concerned.
AI is the latest technology that is sweeping across the continent, with experts predicting that up to 30% of the global workforce could be displaced by 2030 because of advances in AI, robotics, digitisation and big data.
Although the government is moving in the right direction, there is need to introduce basic ICT requirements in rural areas who, up to date, cannot believe that a mobile phone can track their herd in the grazing areas.
For now, the young boys, will continue to look for the cattle in the plains, while the young girls do household chores. Perhaps, in the next decade, a robot will be cleaning the hut in Magunje village, in the heart of Uzumba.