Malawi launched its first-ever Centre for Artificial Intelligence and STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics — Friday at the Malawi University of Science and Technology. Established with support from various U.S.-based universities, the center aims to provide solutions to the country’s innovation and technology needs.
The project’s leader, Zipangani Vokhiwa, a science professor at Mercer University in the U.S. and a Fulbright scholar, says the center will help promote the study and use of artificial intelligence, or AI, and STEAM for the socioeconomic development of Malawi and beyond.
“Economic development that we know cannot go without the modern scientific knowledge and aspect so the center will complement vision 2063 for Malawi as a country that needs to be moving together with the country developments in science,” Vokhiwa said. “Not to be left behind.”
Vokhiwa said the center, known by its acronym, CAIST, will offer educational, technical, policy, and strategy products and services in emerging technologies such as AI.
He said it will also offer machine learning, deep learning, data science, data analytics, internet of things and more that are based on humanistic STEAM education and research.
A consortium of various U.S. universities provided the center with pedagogical and technical support.
These include Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Tech University, Morehouse College, Colorado University, Georgia Southern University, Clemson University, New York University and Mercer University.
There are fears worldwide, however, that the introduction of AI will result in loss of jobs.
CBS news reported that AI eliminated nearly 4,000 jobs in the U.S. in May.
But Vokhiwa said the advantages and disadvantages of AI are still debatable.
“As has been said by the experts, AI has both positive elements and negative elements,” he said. “But knowing fairly well that we cannot run away from digitization of what we do, AI will be needed, and Malawi does not need to lag behind.”
Vokhiwa said AI has helped create employment because it needs people to run the AI machines.
Malawi’s Minister of Education, Madalitso Kambauwa Wirima, officially opened the AI center at the Malawi University of Science and Technology.
She said the launch of the AI center has set the tone and laid the foundation for the country to explore the opportunities that come with new technologies.
However, she said, while AI has the potential to transform the country, there is also a need to address its downside.
“For this to happen, the government will be looking to CAIST for knowledge and expertise so that we can together facilitate the development of the necessary policy and regulatory frameworks governing responsible use of AI,” she said. “The earlier we do this the better, because AI is already here, and we are all using it. Some of us with enough knowledge, but many of us surely without full knowledge of it.”
Kambauwa Wirima said that whatever the case, AI is something that Malawi cannot avoid, mentioning that the intergovernmental Southern African Development Community is already addressing the issue.
“We adopted a decision to develop regional guidelines on the ethics of artificial intelligence to be domesticated and implemented by member states,” she said. “Therefore, Malawi cannot sit on the fence.”
Address Malata, the vice chancellor for Malawi University of Science and Technology, said the university is strategizing its operations to align them to various development agendas including Malawi 2063, Africa Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals, so that whatever the center does, it should benefit everyone.