Last week, James Manyika (pictured), a Zimbabwean-American and Google’s first senior vice-president of research, technology and society, highlighted the transformative potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in his presentation at a conference in Victoria Falls.

The theme, “Artificial Intelligence as a driving force for the African economy and society”, encapsulates the significant impact of AI on various sectors, reshaping the way we live and work in today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape.

Manyika’s insights on AI revolved around four key areas: i) assessing the current state of AI development, ii) exploring the opportunities it offers for Africa’s progress, iii) addressing the challenges and gaps that require attention, and iv) outlining the steps needed for Africa to effectively leverage the potential of AI.

These discussions pave the way for a deeper exploration of AI’s implications for the future. At its core, AI refers to the ability of machines to mimic human intelligence.

It involves the development of computer systems that can perform tasks that would typically require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition and decision-making.

AI algorithms can analyse vast amounts of data, learn from patterns, and make predictions or recommendations with remarkable accuracy.

The impact of AI is already evident in various industries. In healthcare, AI-powered systems can analyse medical images and assist in diagnosing diseases with incredible precision. In finance, AI algorithms can analyse market trends and make informed investment decisions.

In manufacturing, AI-powered robots can automate repetitive tasks, leading to increased productivity and efficiency. But AI is not without its challenges. Ethical concerns around privacy, job displacement, and bias have raised important questions about the responsible development and deployment of AI technologies.

As technology continues to advance, AI has the power to transform industries, improve healthcare outcomes, and enhance our daily lives. The possibilities are endless.

The impact of AI on Zimbabwe is multifaceted. Without it being referred to as AI, as such, it has been prevalent in various forms for quite a while.

It is promising significant transformations across various sectors including healthcare, agriculture, finance, and manufacturing. AI’s integration into healthcare is set to revolutionise early disease detection, diagnostics, and patient care, potentially improving outcomes and efficiency within the sector.

In agriculture, AI applications are enhancing crop yields through optimised irrigation, fertilisation and pest control, contributing to increased productivity and sustainability.

The finance sector benefits from AI through fraud detection, automation of financial processes and improved customer service via chatbots.

When a new wave of industrial retooling arrives, manufacturing is set to seeing advancements in robotics and automation, leading to higher efficiency and safety.

However, the adoption of AI also presents challenges. Limited access to advanced technologies, inadequate infrastructure, and a shortage of skilled AI professionals are significant hurdles. Addressing these challenges requires investment in research and development, capacity building programmes, and fostering public-private partnerships.

The collaborative efforts of Manyika and Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa to stay abreast of technological progress in both Africa and Zimbabwe have culminated in the launch of initiatives aimed at fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the region.

They have been instrumental in supporting start-ups, providing mentorship, and creating opportunities for young tech enthusiasts to thrive. Their dedication to driving progress and shaping the future of technology in Africa and Zimbabwe is truly commendable, inspiring a new generation of leaders and change-makers in the tech industry.

Furthermore, the potential for job displacement due to automation raises concerns. It emphasises the need for re-skilling programmes to help the workforce adapt to new roles where human input is essential.

Additionally, ethical considerations, such as the potential bias in AI algorithms, highlight the importance of designing AI systems with diversity and inclusion in mind.

To harness AI’s benefits while mitigating its risks, Zimbabwe needs a strategic approach that includes embracing technology, investing in necessary infrastructure and skills, and ensuring inclusive and ethical AI development.

This approach can position Zimbabwe at the forefront of the AI revolution, driving innovation and economic growth. Masiyiwa recently shared an exciting update on Facebook about a collaboration between his company and Google Cloud with Anthropic, a prominent AI company, to introduce AI technology to African businesses and organisations.

This partnership heralds a new era where Africa can embrace cutting-edge technology and innovation without delay, offering unparalleled opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs on the continent.

This collaboration signifies a significant shift in the African tech landscape, demonstrating that Africa is no longer a passive observer but an active participant in driving technological advancements and creating value.

It mirrors the essence of Manyika’s discourse on the transformative impact of AI in Africa, emphasising the importance of seizing the opportunities presented by technological innovations to better serve customers and create value.

Masiyiwa also highlighted the evolution of his company’s journey from a telecommunications firm to Africa’s leading technology company through strategic pivoting, a technique that involves leveraging existing capabilities to venture into new territories, all aimed at enhancing customer service and value creation.

Notably, Liquid Cloud and Cybersecurity, known as Liquid C2, emerged as a pivotal player in his Cassava Technologies’ mission to ensure that every African benefits from the ongoing technology revolution, forging strong partnerships with global tech giants seeking collaborations in Africa.

The potential of AI in Zimbabwe is vast, promising transformations in healthcare, agriculture, finance, and manufacturing. While the integration of AI offers numerous benefits, challenges such as limited access to advanced technologies and job displacement necessitate strategic investments in research, skills development, and ethical AI practices.

By embracing technology, fostering innovation, and prioritising inclusivity, Zimbabwe can position itself as a leader in the AI revolution, driving economic growth and societal advancement.

As we navigate the era of artificial intelligence, it is imperative to approach AI adoption with a forward-thinking and ethical mindset, ensuring that the benefits of AI are maximised while mitigating potential risks.

It is clear that AI will play a pivotal role in shaping our society. The future of Zimbabwe lies in embracing AI responsibly and leveraging its potential for the greater good, ushering in a new era where the future is now.

Bangure is an AI enthusiast and scholar. — [email protected]