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Artificial Intelligence: Are We Ready to Grow?

Artificial Intelligence: Are We Ready to Grow?

The international scene is witnessing a veritable technological revolution, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) playing a central role, bringing with it profound transformations in various economic sectors and significantly altering everyday life and the working environment. Mozambique is also joining this trend, despite technical, financial and infrastructural limitations. How is adherence to this new paradigm progressing and what is the situation in other regions?

Intelligence has transcended the exclusivity of the human brain. Since the advent of machines capable of performing tasks that previously required human intelligence, such as voice recognition, computer vision, natural language processing and decision-making, we have witnessed an irrevocable transformation in the way we think, live and produce. Intelligent machines are already improving efficiency and productivity in various areas of the economy, radically moulding our daily lives. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has thus emerged as a global imperative, driving all countries to join this technological race and becoming a critical factor in competitiveness between nations.

Mozambique’s context

Mozambique faces several barriers to the full adoption and implementation of AI. One of the most significant obstacles is the lack of information and communication technology infrastructure, especially in sectors that depend intensively on advanced technology. In parallel, there is a pressing need to train qualified human resources in data science, programming and other AI-related disciplines in order to fully exploit its potential. Training these professionals, despite being a costly and lengthy process, is vital to ensuring the efficient and responsible use of AI throughout the country. In addition to these weaknesses, recognised by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, there is a lack of regulation that responds to contemporary challenges, an issue we will explore later.

According to Tiago Borges Coelho, co-founder of UX, an internationally renowned technology company based in Mozambique, Artificial Intelligence has seen an increase in use in the country, in line with global trends. However, he emphasises that the implementation of AI-based solutions has predominantly been led by foreign entities, such as NGOs and Development Agencies, in collaboration with the Government. “Examples of the application of AI by the private sector in Mozambique are scarce, or at least not widely publicised, possibly for strategic reasons. One concrete case of our company using AI is on the emprego.co.mz platform, the country’s main digital recruitment portal, where AI is used to assess the suitability of candidates for the vacancies available,” he said.

He also highlighted the use of drones with AI by the United Nations World Food Programme in response to cyclones Kenneth and Idai in 2019, as a milestone in the use of technology in humanitarian emergencies. Another example mentioned was the adoption of an AI platform by the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration to monitor elections, developed by the United Nations Development Programme.

“Huge technical gaps in Computer Science, Software Engineering and Data Analysis limit the ability to develop and implement AI solutions,” Bruno Dias, EY

Bruno Dias, consulting leader at Ernst & Young (EY) – a consultancy that carries out market research and monitors the evolution of AI at national and international level – shares a similar perspective. “We recently implemented a solution using Machine Learning technologies for a client in the Mozambican market, but this is one of the few examples of corporate adoption of these technologies that I know of in the country,” he said.

We’re late and we’re missing almost everything!

Bruno Dias provided a detailed analysis of the potential of Artificial Intelligence for Mozambique, contrasting it with the development and adoption of this technology in other African countries, which vary significantly. He emphasised that nations such as Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa have made remarkable progress thanks to the commitment of the private sector, favourable government policies and the existence of adequate resources and technological capabilities.

However, it identifies common challenges, including shortcomings in Information Technology infrastructure, such as scarce or limited internet access and restricted capacity to process large volumes of data, a technical skills gap in human resources, limited investment capacity and a lack of clear regulatory policies and guidelines. As mitigating measures, he suggests approaches such as centralising data processing in Maputo for situations where information does not need to be made available in real time, allowing data to be collected and made available later to remote populations or stakeholders.

Lack of real data to train AI in the country

Contrary to Bruno Dias, Tiago Borges Coelho, co-founder of UX, believes that the existing digital infrastructure in Mozambique is not a barrier to the advancement of Artificial Intelligence, arguing that “anyone with a computer and internet access can use AI applications in the cloud”. However, he admits that the country faces a significant challenge due to the lack of large volumes of data for training and validation, which requires extensive computing and storage capacity.

Recognising the limitations of regulation, INTIC and the Mozambican Banking Association signed an agreement to regulate cloud computing service operations

Borges Coelho points out that, in Mozambique, the infrastructure needed to support such a volume of information is not available at an affordable cost, and emphasises the importance of data as a crucial element for the development of AI, stressing the absence of an open data policy that facilitates the collection and publication of public data. “Data is essential for training AI systems and for them to be able to process and organise information, generating knowledge of interest,” he explains.

João Gaspar, president of the Mozambican Fintech Association, also raised concerns, particularly in the financial sector, about restrictions on the use of cloud technologies for data processing, due to regulations that require data to be localised within the country. This limits access to and efficient use of cloud infrastructures. Gaspar argues that more open policies could facilitate integration with cloud databases, preventing companies from having to develop complex and expensive architectures individually.

Borges Coelho adds, emphasising that an open and robust data policy would provide students with the resources to research and develop innovative AI solutions, with transformative potential and capable of significantly boosting the growth of Artificial Intelligence in Mozambique.

Regulatory changes on the horizon

E&M sought information from the National Institute of Information and Communication Technologies (INTIC), the regulatory body for Information and Communication Technologies in Mozambique, which is responsible for the regulations currently under discussion. Luís Canhemba, executive director of INTIC’s Corporate Department, confirmed that, given the recognised limitations of the existing regulations, an agreement was signed last December with the Mozambican Banking Association to draw up the Cloud Computing Regulation. This regulation seeks to modernise and optimise information technology services by creating guidelines for the development, contracting, hosting and operation of cloud services, in line with the implementation of the Electronic Transactions Law.

“Anyone can access, for example, a ChatGPT or any other generative AI tool and create content, without any technical knowledge,” Tiago Borges Coelho, UX

The ICT regulatory review is in the preparatory phase, led by a multisectoral team that includes technicians from INTIC, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, the National Communications Institute of Mozambique and the Bank of Mozambique, with the aim of establishing a clear national strategy that facilitates the implementation of AI in different sectors.

How can the human capital deficit be resolved?

With regard to the human capital challenge, the Pedagogical University of Maputo (UP-Maputo) is emerging as a pioneering institution, preparing to introduce courses focussed on AI and robotics in a bid to respond to the growing demand for qualified professionals in these emerging areas. The Rector of UP-Maputo, Jorge Ferrão, emphasised the ambitious nature of these areas given the Mozambican reality, but stressed the importance of strategic partnerships with consolidated universities in countries such as Brazil, Portugal and the United Kingdom, to overcome financial, technical and resource limitations. UP-Maputo plans to start teaching these specialities from this year, a move that Ferrão considers crucial not only for his institution but as a model for others to follow, expanding the knowledge base and qualified technicians to face current and future challenges.

“An inter-institutional strategy is needed”

A strategy that connects the players: this perspective, widely anticipated by the market, is shared by Bruno Dias, who advocates the creation of innovation ecosystems involving the private sector, the public sector, universities, consultancies and IT companies. Such ecosystems could develop training programmes, internships and practical learning for talent in Mozambique. “In my experience, nothing is impossible. Four years ago, we faced scepticism when recruiting recent graduates for our IT team in Maputo. Today, however, EY in Maputo employs young Mozambicans who provide services to national and international clients in areas such as cybersecurity, robotics, cloud technologies and, yes, artificial intelligence,” he explains.

Tiago Borges Coelho, co-founder of UX, agrees with the importance of training, but believes that this alone is not enough to drive significant change. “The way forward is to demystify these technologies and encourage people to explore AI tools, driven by curiosity.” He distinguishes between creating AI models, which requires significant resources and advanced technical knowledge, and using existing AI tools, which are accessible to anyone with curiosity and a willingness to experiment. “Today, anyone can use, for example, a ChatGPT or other generative AI tools to create images, texts, sounds or other content without the need for prior technical knowledge.”

AI and ethics: the dangers to watch out for

See Also

The implementation of Artificial Intelligence goes beyond the mere introduction of solutions, facilities and automation into processes. One of the pressing global concerns is the ethical use of AI, especially with regard to the protection of data privacy and human rights. About two years ago, UNESCO issued a 45-page guidance document aimed at shaping AI implementation policies in its member countries. During a seminar for journalists in Maputo at the beginning of February, Paul Gomis, UNESCO’s director and representative in Mozambique, emphasised the importance of this document as an essential guide in the process of adopting AI. According to Gomis, Mozambique and other African countries should adopt it as a fundamental reference in their digital transformation journey.

The document addresses crucial ethical issues associated with AI, including the risks of incorporating and potentiating distortions that can lead to discrimination, inequality, digital and social exclusion, threats to cultural, social and biological diversity, as well as social and economic divisions. In addition, it expresses concern that AI may intensify exclusion in access to technologies, emphasising that lifestyle choices, beliefs, opinions and personal experiences, including the optional use of AI systems, should not be restricted.

UNESCO recommends efforts, including international co-operation, to overcome the lack of essential technological infrastructure, education, skills and legal frameworks

UNESCO recommends efforts, including international co-operation, to overcome the lack of technological infrastructure, education, skills and essential legal frameworks. With regard to privacy, it emphasises the importance of ensuring that data handled by AI systems is collected, used, shared, archived and disposed of in a way that respects international law and relevant national, regional and international legal frameworks. INTIC, in developing standards, claims to be considering these ethical issues and consulting with other international organisations concerned with the issue, in addition to UNESCO, ensuring that ethics and the protection of fundamental rights are pillars of AI implementation in Mozambique.

What is AI being applied to in Mozambique?

There are already initiatives to apply Artificial Intelligence to agriculture in Mozambique. The Agritech Innovators group, founded by young Mozambicans, has developed a platform that facilitates interaction and exchange between agricultural producers, providing, for example, guidance on planting practices or allowing access to processed images of their plantations, analysed using AI, to detail the state of the crops. In addition, the platform sends weather alerts, allowing farmers to anticipate adverse conditions.

This same group has innovated by creating a platform capable of identifying pests, advising farmers on preventative measures and corrective actions for affected crops.

In the health sector, the AI system developed by the Stop TB organisation, with the support of the UN, which identifies cases of tuberculosis in high security prisons, stands out. This system is connected to X-ray equipment and provides results in less than five minutes, speeding up the start of treatment.

In the financial sphere, the digitalisation of transactions, driven by increased internet access, has benefited from AI to detect fraud and strengthen data security. In the education sector, there are already adaptive programmes that personalise teaching to the individual needs of each student, providing real-time feedback and monitoring their progress.

EY points out that, considering Mozambique’s specific challenges, AI capabilities can be extended to the management of natural disasters, improving the prediction of these events and potentially minimising their destructive impact.

Thus, it is clear that, despite the progress already made, there is vast potential for exploration and growth in the application of AI in various sectors in the country.

Text: Celso Chambisso – Photo: Istock Photo & D.R.

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