The World Changed Last Week

How far and how fast we have come with artificial intelligence (AI) as a species has been nothing short of amazing. To truly grasp how impressive this is, imagine compressing 400 years of AI progress into just 40 years. That’s roughly where we stand today, witnessing groundbreaking advancements that once seemed like distant dreams.

In the first decade, for instance, pioneers like Pascal and Leibniz laid the foundation with their mechanical calculators. Fast forward to the “Turing Test” era, where Alan Turing’s vision sparked the development of sophisticated algorithms, blurring the line between humans and machines, and laying the foundation upon which AI was built.

Just last year, inspired by the human brain, neural networks emerged, revolutionising AI’s learning capabilities. Last week, on a Monday, breakthroughs in natural language processing emerged. Tuesday witnessed a significant milestone with the introduction of a groundbreaking deep learning algorithm, which was able to, for the first time, surpass human capabilities in image recognition. Wednesday brought advancements in robotics, yielding more dexterous and adaptable machines. Then, on Thursday, a collaborative effort between AI researchers and ethicists released guidelines for responsible AI development, acknowledging its potential harm if left unchecked. Finally, this past Friday saw the release of open-source code for powerful language models like Chat GPT, Gemini, Sora and others. 

Today, we’re witnessing a whirlwind of progress: natural language processing that understands our nuances, deep learning algorithms powering self-driving cars, and AI-powered medical diagnostics saving lives. This rapid growth isn’t just about technical feats; it’s about transforming our world. From personalised education to climate change solutions, AI is shaping a future filled with possibilities.

The Quantum Leap in AI Advancements

Following our time period analogy, last week saw three groundbreaking AI models—Gemini, Chat GPT, and Sora. These models are unlike anything we’ve seen before. These cutting-edge AI technologies represent a monumental leap forward, pushing the boundaries of what we previously thought was possible. These powerful generative models signal not just an incremental upgrade, but a seismic shift in the capabilities of AI. For example, Gemini can create realistic images from text descriptions, something previous models struggled with. This could revolutionise industries like education, advertising and design.

Imagine a world where AI can write books for people with learning disabilities, answer your questions in a comprehensive and informative way, or even create short educational videos tailored to your learning style. This is the future promised by these new models. These advancements aren’t just about technical achievements; they have the potential to make our lives easier, more creative, and more informative.

Google’s Gemini

Gemini generated image of a place in Lusaka, Zambia.

As of February 25, Gemini’s ability to handle images of people was unavailable, probably because it was undergoing improvements.

Chat GPT

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you must have heard of Chat GPT, a large language model developed by a company called OpenAI. ChatGPT boasts an impressive array of capabilities. It can generate diverse content across genres such as poems, code, scripts, musical pieces, emails, and letters. Impressively adaptable, ChatGPT tailors its writing style and tone according to prompts and the intended audience. The model adeptly responds to questions with comprehensive and informative answers, regardless of the complexity or eccentricity of the queries. 

Additionally, ChatGPT showcases its language versatility through translation services, although its accuracy may vary across languages and contexts. In terms of text processing, the model excels in question answering. In essence, ChatGPT stands as a versatile language model, seamlessly generating creative texts, participating in engaging conversations, and efficiently processing information to fulfil diverse requests and inquiries. There is a lot one can do with this model. I have personally created a Python script that tells the time with quotes that change every minute.

A Clock Project
A Clock Project made by Python and ChatGPT

Open AI’s Sora
OpenAI’s Sora emerges as a state-of-the-art text-to-video AI model, pushing the boundaries of creative expression. What sets Sora apart is its exceptional capacity to transform textual descriptions into realistic and imaginative videos, up to a minute in duration, while meticulously adhering to user prompts. Considering its capabilities, Sora holds promise for diverse applications. In the realm of video editing, it could revolutionise the process by automating mundane tasks and introducing creative transitions and effects. Moreover, its potential extends to entertainment and education, where Sora could craft short video clips tailored for engaging educational content, personalised experiences, or captivating entertainment. As a pioneering text-to-video model, Sora opens new avenues for dynamic and imaginative content creation.

In truth, because technology in general and AI in particular are constantly evolving, this is the worst that these models will ever be. They can only get better from here. The current innovations and achievements serve as a prelude to the continuous improvements and advancements anticipated in the field. It is crucial to recognise that these generative models, although remarkable, symbolise the nascent stage of AI’s journey rather than its zenith. This realisation is important as we anticipate more capable and groundbreaking even more groundbreaking developments that will undoubtedly redefine the boundaries of what AI can achieve in the foreseeable future.

AI Tools for Ordinary People

AI tools have transcended the realm of specialised expertise, becoming accessible assets for ordinary individuals across diverse domains. From content creation to academic research, medicine, and problem-solving, user-friendly AI applications have proliferated, empowering individuals to harness the benefits of artificial intelligence in their daily endeavours. Platforms like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s AutoML exemplify the democratisation of AI, allowing users to engage in natural language conversations and create custom machine learning models without extensive technical knowledge. In the academic sphere, tools like IBM Watson offer advanced capabilities for data analysis and research, while AI applications in medicine, such as PathAI, aid in diagnostics and pathology. These examples underscore how AI has transitioned from a specialised tool to a valuable asset, enhancing productivity and creativity for ordinary individuals in their various tasks, ultimately making processes more efficient and effective.

Here are examples of tools you can use today…

Productivity & Communication

Grammarly- This AI-powered writing assistant checks your grammar, spelling, and style in real-time, making your emails, documents, and even social media posts more polished. Grammarly can help you write faster and better. 
Microsoft Dictate- this tool allows you to dictate text directly into your computer with incredible accuracy, perfect for taking notes, writing emails, or composing documents on the go.

DeepL – this translation tool utilises AI to provide more natural and accurate translations than traditional options, breaking down language barriers for everyday communication.

Creativity & Entertainment

DALL-E 2- Generate unique and creative images based on your text descriptions, perfect for sparking inspiration or creating personalised art. This tool is good for content creators or bloggers as they don’t have to struggle with images. 
MuseNet- For the music lovers out there, there is a groundbreaking tool that utilises machine learning to create music. Compose musical pieces in various styles with this AI-powered music generator, unleashing your inner musician even without musical training. 
Replika: This AI chatbot companion learns about you and provides personalised conversation, offering a unique form of social interaction and emotional support. Although tools like this can exacerbate isolation, it is very helpful in moments when one feels grossly misunderstood or lonely.

Learning & Personal Growth
There are plenty of tools out there for learning and productivity, such as Duolingo, a language learning app that leverages AI to personalise your learning experience and track your progress. Freedom is another AI-powered tool that blocks distracting websites and apps, helping you stay focused and improve your productivity. Headspace is among many technologies for mindfulness and meditation, and Cleo, an AI-powered budgeting app, helps you track your spending, set goals, and make informed financial decisions. In this day and age, we are spoiled for choice.

 Future Unfolds: General AI on the Horizon?

The ultimate question remains: will we achieve true “general AI,” a machine that thinks and learns like a human? Some experts believe it’s inevitable, while others warn of unforeseen dangers. One thing is true: Africa must embrace AI, mainly for two reasons. AI presents innovative solutions to multifaceted challenges and propels progress across diverse sectors. Embracing and actively harnessing the power of AI is not merely a choice but a necessity for the continent. Solutions such as precision agriculture to combat climate change and revolutionising healthcare with remote diagnostics and personalised medicine are all possible because of AI. Secondly, AI holds the key to economic growth and innovation, automating tasks, streamlining processes, and creating new industries, thus fostering job creation and capitalising on Africa’s youthful talent pool. In this respect, AI enables Africa to leapfrog traditional development paths, adopting cutting-edge solutions to accelerate progress across various sectors and bridge the gap with developed nations.

Looking back, last week, in the context of our metaphorical compressed time frame, was just a glimpse into the rapid evolution of Artificial Intelligence. With each significant advancement, we edge nearer to a future characterised by collaboration, competition, and perhaps even integration between humans and machines. Whether this impending reality leans towards utopia or dystopia, one thing certainly remains: the world has changed, and the future looms ahead, a mix of challenges and excitement. The only question is, are we ready?

Alexander Zulu

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