AI Holds Huge Transformative Potential

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Artificial intelligence (AI) isn't science fiction anymore. It is here, subtly woven into our daily lives. From the voice assistants on our phones to text generator models in emails, AI is making its presence felt. But what exactly is AI? In simpler terms, AI is a branch of computer science that deals with theory and methods to build machines that think and act like humans. One powerful subset of AI is machine learning. Imagine a chef constantly refining their recipes based on years of experience and feedback from customers.  Machine learning algorithms do just that. They analyse data, identify patterns, and improve their performance over time. This allows them to make data-driven predictions and classifications. To put it in even more simple terms, Machine learning is the way a machine learns. There are generally three ways a machine can learn - supervised learning, unsupervised learning and reinforcement learning.

Immense potential

So, which sector do you think that we must prioritise for the initial integration of AI into Nepali society? The field is extensive, but I'll mainly focus on three sectors that require greater attention to ensure smooth development and to prevent our country from falling behind in this new era. As an agrarian nation, Nepal has immense potential to leverage AI in this particular field. AI can be used to analyse weather patterns, soil conditions, and historical data to suggest optimal planting times, resource allocation, and even predict crop yields. This can significantly improve agricultural efficiency and food security in Nepal. Our neighbouring country India's Saagu Baagu project, which uses AI-powered tools to assist chili farmers, serves as a successful example. Moreover, Google’s AI has also helped farmers in Africa detect locust outbreaks early. 

Similarly, our another neighboring country – China – has made the World's First AI-Powered Vertical Farm with 20 Floors which utilises advanced plant light formulas to improve light efficiency, overcoming challenges related to low light efficiency, high energy consumption, and limited land space. These types of projects can also be implemented in Nepal. For instance, in densely populated areas like Kathmandu, an AI model akin to China’s AI-powered Vertical Farm could aid in minimising the extensive space used for agriculture. 

Nepal's healthcare system can also be revolutionised with the integration of AI. AI-powered diagnostics and telemedicine platforms can bridge the gap in healthcare access, especially in remote areas. Imagine a doctor in Kathmandu remotely consulting with a patient in Jumla village, all facilitated by AI and only requiring low-bandwidth internet. Moreover, early disease detection of liver cancer, oral cancer, diabetes, heart disease and many more can also be made easy using Deep Learning. It may all sound like utopia but it is possible, and people are working day and night to make it possible. For instance, Google is also working on its own AI Eye scan technology, and it has the potential to predict cardiovascular disease risk simply by analysing a person's retinal scan. 

In the context of Nepal, mental health challenges like depression and anxiety are on the rise, mirroring a global trend as our lives become increasingly complex. However, there are significant barriers to accessing proper solutions. The high fees of mental health professionals and the stigma associated with mental health have made it even harder for people to seek help. This is where AI-powered chatbots like Woebot, developed by San Francisco's Woebot Lab, can offer a valuable solution.

Nepal's stunning natural beauty and rich cultural heritage have captivated tourists worldwide, attracting 614,869 and 1,014,885 visitors in 2022 and 2023 respectively (Department of Immigration). However, many tourists encounter challenges like limited itinerary planning resources, communication barriers, and a lack of information about hidden gems – especially natural attractions, hotels, and restaurants outside major cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara. Many travel agencies lack user-friendly websites or efficient communication channels for international tourists.

Personalised recommendations

Fortunately, AI can bridge these gaps and propel Nepal's tourism sector even further. For example, hospitality businesses in Spain use AI chatbots to answer guest inquiries and give personalised recommendations. Similarly, destinations like Barcelona use AI to analyse tourist data, optimizing traffic flow and managing congestion at popular attractions. Implementing such a system in Nepal would allow data-driven infrastructure development in tourist hotspots, ensuring a smoother and more enjoyable experience for all. Germany's Deutsche Bahn railway system demonstrates the power of AI chatbots in answering traveler questions and assisting with ticket purchases. Additionally, US travel giants like Expedia and Trip.com utilise AI-powered chatbots to suggest customised itineraries and accommodations.  Similar solutions in Nepal would not only ease the burden on tourists but also cater to their needs.

Furthermore, AI translation tools can bridge the communication gap between tourists and locals, particularly in remote areas where English proficiency is limited. AI-powered applications and websites can also provide real-time information on weather conditions, trail closures, and cultural events – all in the tourist's preferred language – further enhancing their travel experience. AI adoption in Nepal is still in its early stages, but the potential is indeterminately high. We require more scholarly individuals, tech-savvy researchers, schools, universities and training providers to facilitate AI education in Nepal so that we can uplift our country’s standard and develop Nepal into a more prosperous and sustainable country through various AI based innovation and startups applying responsible AI practices.

(Adhikari is studying at the New York University Abu Dhabi.) 

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