Artificial Intelligence in Malawi


One of the oldest dreams and one that has long been cherished by science is that of creating intelligent machines. In the 1950s a mathematician Alan Mathison Turing asked a simple question akin to: “Can Machines Think?” And today, to some level, it appears they sure can!

Artificial intelligence includes a wide range of science tools concerned with building smart machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. AI is an interdisciplinary science with multiple approaches, but key advancements have been enabled by machine learning and deep learning. These implementations of intelligence are mostly based on computer science concepts which in turn may be based or written in the language of mathematical modelling.
Artificial intelligence (AI) makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks. Most AI examples that are talked about the most often in media–self-driving cars, protein folding, etc – rely heavily on deep learning. Using these technologies, computers can be trained to accomplish specific tasks by processing large amounts of data and recognizing patterns in the data.

Embedding intelligence into otherwise unintelligent matter naturally raises some tricky questions. Computers have already shown that they can perform computations at a far higher speed and efficiency than humans can. What would the future of more ubiquitous and sophisticated intelligence bring to mankind? This remains an open question. At KCHKNA we see AI as one of the most promising tools for the kind of societal growth that will simplify life of humanity; we need AI to help us solve some of the complex issues in our lives.

With the introduction of computers human life has changed tremendously. Many tasks have completely evolved from how they were conducted both in terms of the speed as well as the culture. We have managed to create computer programs that have allowed us to perform automated tasks which has enabled us to save one of our greatest resources (Time). Most African countries took some time to adopt as well to implement computer systems and this slowed their progress in development. With the coming of artificial intelligence most African countries can now take advantage of the technology to work hand in hand with software to devise better data-based strategies or implement those strategies. With artificial intelligence and artificial simulations, scenarios–economic, political, environmental– can be played out and their evolution tracked prior to actual implementation; this then minimizes risk. For Malawi, as it aims to develop at a far more rapid pace than ever before, adopting these kinds of technologies is not a matter of choice—it must be done.  Hospitals, schools, farms as well different industries can maximize productivity by incorporating artificial intelligence.  AI systems can scan great amounts of historical data in a few minutes and identify patterns that are impossible to be observed by humans. There is a limit to what human intelligence can do at any point in time. But the potential of artificial intelligence is limitless. Malawi as a country can benefit from these systems in both government as well as private sector. 

The beauty of AI is that most of the tools for developing AI systems are in fact open source. One needs no more than a computer and a human brain! The applications that can be developed are too numerous to mention but here are some examples:

  1. Local language Natural Language Processing (NLP) models: We know that one of the most natural modes of communicating is using voice. The arrival of computers and mobile devices in the last few decades has made communicating with hands (typing) seem normal. But with better NLP now the norm may well be communicating with our various devices using voice. But NLP models will not understand any language out of the box. They need to be trained on a lot of transcripts from the local languages. So NLP models for Malawi need to be developed.
  2. Autonomous Cars—Autonomous cars drive themselves. This is less of a big deal in the almost flawless streets of, say, Singapore, but take the car into the likes of Chatoloma or Wimbe and the car may immediately lose its intelligence! This is expected because intelligence depends on experience so in order for autonomous cars to drive on the streets and roads of Malawi we need the models to be trained on the streets of Malawi. Autonomous driving relies on cameras and computers, both of which are readily available to anyone who dares to look so Malawi can start developing Autonomous Cars, be they road-based or air vehicles!
  3. Fast Diagnosis of Common Diseases—Malaria is diagnosed by looking at the Red Blood Cells. Many errors are made in the process of diagnosis, and more importantly a lot of time is spent looking at the RBCs to see if the host of the cells is infected. This whole process can be put into a machine learning pipeline thus automating it. Many more illnesses can be diagnosed much faster with AI–but to ensure safe and accurate models they need to be trained on local data.
  4. Advanced Robotics—We emphasize that the beauty of AI is that all one needs is a computer and a brain—and the desire to do something creative! So training robots for a variety of tasks can be done at present. By incorporating robots across many industries the overall gains made by the country will be immense.

Watch out for our future posts where we share more in-depth about some of the many ways some of these applications and others can be implemented.