AI for everyone: Zuckerberg puts powerful Meta AI right inside WhatsApp

This is a big deal. Meta AI, a powerful AI assistant, is now available right inside WhatsApp for anyone to use for free. For those of us in Zimbabwe, and likely much of Africa, this marks the first time a generative AI tool is accessible to everyday people. When you spend your time consuming tech […] The post AI for everyone: Zuckerberg puts powerful Meta AI right inside WhatsApp appeared first on Techzim.

AI for everyone: Zuckerberg puts powerful Meta AI right inside WhatsApp
Meta AI inside WhatsApp

This is a big deal. Meta AI, a powerful AI assistant, is now available right inside WhatsApp for anyone to use for free.

For those of us in Zimbabwe, and likely much of Africa, this marks the first time a generative AI tool is accessible to everyday people.

When you spend your time consuming tech content for a living, it’s easy to forget the gap between tools you use regularly and those available to the average person.

Since yesterday morning, when Meta AI became available inside WhatsApp for anyone using the most recent update, ordinary people in Africa, and elsewhere in the world, are experiencing generative AI for the first time. It’s a mind blowing experience that gives you the sense a massive shift has just happened. Even when you can’t quite put it in words, you know things have changed. There’s now a distinct ‘before AI’ and ‘after AI’.

What is Meta AI?

Let’s cover the basics. Meta is a Artificial Intelligence assistant that will now be available within WhatsApp and other Meta platforms like Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and directly on the web at meta.ai.

Think of Meta AI as a chatty, super helpful friend. Meta AI answers questions using artificial intelligence as if you were chatting with a person. It can answer questions, help with writing, generate ideas, provide support with learning new skills, whip up recipes, offer creative design input, and much more. It will even just be a supportive friend if that’s what you need. In fact, an AI will proof read this article before I hit publish.

To get the most out of it, people will have to learn to frame their questions well, sort of the same way people learned to enter more effective keywords into Google Search. It’s an “asking skill” people are calling “prompt engineering.”

ChatGPT, Gemini are elite

ChatGPT, when I used it for the first time after it’s 2022 launch, felt like miracle technology. It was just unbelievable that a computer, like a human, could understand my language and just be helpful.

But it was for the tech elite. ChatGPT could not be used in Zimbabwe for several months after it launched. You needed a phone number from a supported country. Mine was a South African number I got for ChatGPT.

Google’s Bard was released for the first time in March 2023 but it too was for people who knew to look for it. For developers sampling it to generate code, students seeking assignment help. Office employees motivated to get help with emails and and reports. In short, it catered to those who actively use the web.

But as most people that will read this will know, in Africa, the web is not the most used internet. People primarily access the internet through WhatsApp and Facebook thanks to app-specific data bundles offered by mobile internet providers. You pay, say, $7 a month for 1.5GB of WhatsApp only.

Beyond the niche status of the open web in Africa, both OpenAI and Google charge for their latest AI technology. Essentially, the free versions of ChatGPT and Gemini available online aren’t as powerful as those reserved for paying customers who have to fork out $20 a month.

Meta AI changes this

At least according to Meta itself, its AI is as powerful as the stuff that OpenAI and Google charge for. Meta is making its latest staff available to anyone right inside WhatsApp without needing to pay a cent.

Built with Meta Llama 3, Meta AI is one of the world’s leading AI assistants, already on your phone, in your pocket for free. Meta’s press announcement

With Meta AI, the vendor selling tomatoes on the roadside has access to it via WhatsApp. The grade 7 student in Mkoba can use their parent’s WhatsApp for AI help with homework. The school leaver turning their bedroom and old laptop into a recording studio, can explore their creativity with AI.

The small scale sugar cane farmer in Honde Valley has access too. Or do they? Yes, they have access to WhatsApp and can ask Meta AI about the weather, and the crop varieties… but they’ll have to do so in English.

Can Meta AI speak Shona?

Access is one hurdle. There’s the language one as well. Even with access to this technology, users who don’t speak English will still struggle to benefit from it. My brief tests showed that Meta AI cannot handle basic, everyday Shona.

I greeted it and it assumed I wanted Shona translations. Even specifically for a Shona conversation didn’t yield a Shona response.

I get it, to be honest. Shona is spoken by less than 10 million people in a world of 8 billion. Perhaps it makes sense to encourage the adoption of more widely-spoken languages like Swahili. I’m not an expert in language politics, but clearly, even with the major shift Meta AI represents, many will still be left out.

I’m no expert at language politics of course. My point really is that a lot of people will still be left out even with this massive shift that Meta AI brings in its wake.

Who knows, maybe model training for even the most niche languages will happen soon too. And maybe a local startup is already onto this problem.

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