Zimbabwe: Future of machine learning, artificial intelligence

Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira

It is now apparent that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will be adopted in many industries, within a considerable number of software packages, and also as part of our daily lives by 2021.

In computer science, AI, sometimes called machine intelligence, is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans.

Machine learning (ML) is the scientific study of algorithms and statistical models that computer systems use to perform a specific task without using explicit instructions, relying on patterns and inference instead. It is seen as a subset of artificial intelligence.

According to Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, by 2021, AI will become one of the top five investment priorities for at least 30 percent of chief information officers.
It also points out that global software vendors are after this new gold rush.

In Zimbabwe, though the promise of new revenue has pushed software business owners to invest in AI technologies, unfortunately most organisations do not have skilled staff to embrace AI.

Most importantly, there is need to equip the younger generation and encourage them to take mathematics and other science subjects for them to secure future jobs.

The country’s teachers should not also be left behind in preparing future generations.
With the incursion of AI embedded learning platforms, and the country’s adoption of Education 5.0 — which is competence-based, blended and more personalised learning, it is time educators also change their tune.

Schools across the country that are already excelling and implementing innovative practices need to know how to incorporate and add new models into existing frameworks.

In its report, “How Enterprise Software Providers Should (and Should Not) Exploit the AI Disruption”, Gartner gave a stern warning that in many industry surveys on AI and its impact on industries is that software vendors should first focus on understanding the business-customer needs and potential business benefits from AI, before chasing the gold rush, which has been termed as “AI Washing,”.

In an interview with The Herald, a lecturer in Mathematical Statistics and an emerging researcher in statistical modelling of economic and financial cycles at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, Dr Farai Frederick Mlambo, said it is important to equip youths rather than only investing in AI technologies with no skilled staff.

The economy, he said, and our general well-being are all backed by science, technology, engineering, and maths.
Dr Mlambo said with the advent of computing power, also known as the computer revolution, data exists in every sphere of life, from commerce, through engineering, to creative arts.

“The analysis of this data, to make sound decisions is called data science. Machine learning, which is the study of algorithms and statistical models that computer systems use to perform tasks without explicit instructions, relies on patterns. This is where mathematics comes in,” he said.

“Gone are the days where people used to lie to our young people that mathematics is for school teachers. A thorough understanding of linear algebra and mathematical optimisation is important for a successful career in data science and artificial intelligence, which is broader than machine learning.

“I recommend that young people should develop the love for mathematics, coding and science, for a future in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Data Science encompasses three areas — mathematics, coding and an application area, for example banking and insurance sectors among other areas,” he said.

Gartner added: “Artificial intelligence and machine learning have reached a critical tipping point and will increasingly augment and extend virtually every technology enabled service, thing, or application.”

Thus, it becomes imperative for the country to keep investing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) which is essential for economic development.

The country’s educators should try and teach young students the four disciplines in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.
This means that unlike the traditional ways of teaching the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects — they should integrate them into cohesive learning paradigm-based on real-world applications.

Soon some professions will be rendered useless, hence the need to take these subjects seriously as a nation.

Earlier this year, Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development, Professor Amon Murwira, hogged the limelight and drew mixed feelings when he announced that Government is actively reviewing degrees offered by State universities with a view to standardising qualifications and abolishing “irrelevant” programmes that are ostensibly creating “idle” graduates who do not have innovative skills.

Local universities and colleges should be seized with the practicalities of this exciting development.
Unlike in the past where the higher and tertiary education sector was structured to teach, research and serve communities, there is need to also innovate and industrialise Zimbabwe.

The mission of all responsible authorities will, thus, be to make all tertiary institutions focus on development activities capable of modernising and industrialising Zimbabwe.

There is need to create graduates who are problem solvers and value creators.
In order for the country to achieve its vision of becoming an upper middle-income economy by 2030 there is need to develop an education system that leads to an industry that produces quality goods and services

It is therefore important for Government and other development partners to collaborate and boost science education in the country as it is the power that drives industry.

For the country to keep churning a crop of graduates that are not capable of producing goods and services is no longer relevant at all and a waste of resources.

Over the next decade, the country will fully witness a far-reaching shift from partial mistrust and scepticism to complete dependence on AI and other advanced technologies.

The time is now, for the country to equip the youths for future jobs which needs knowledge of AI and ML which will be adopted by many industries. – Herald