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New Times report on Rwanda’s contribution to space science was Greek

Two similar but unrelated events happened in Kenya and Rwanda last week.

In Nairobi, the Media Council of Kenya appointed a 29-member task force to develop guidelines for media utilisation of Artificial Intelligence, data and social media.

MCK chief executive officer David Omwoyo said the technical team drawn from the media, technology, academia, and legal fields is to detail the benefits and threats of the new technologies, recommend ethical considerations for improving the quality of journalism, integrate the use of data in reportage, and offer professional ways for eliminating harmful content from the media.

Over in Kigali, Rwanda was toasting some of her “select and finest” information and technology engineering students who had developed AI algorithms that can assess land use and generate essential data. Space scientists say such statistics bear immense promise of requisite knowledge for different sectors such as agriculture, urban planning, disaster management and environmental monitoring.

The six top brains, selected from the University of Rwanda, Carnegie Mellon University Africa and the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, were guided by the Rwanda Space Agency engineers to embed their invention on China’s satellite pad known as WonderJourney-1A (WJ-1A), owned by STAR.VISION Aerospace Limited.

Why is this important? The AI algorithms will enable WJ-1A to observe and process data from land use images on the spot – thereby eliminating delays and reducing costs – unlike traditional satellites that had to, first, send such information back to the planet Earth for interpretation.

The story was to be told as simply and easily as that. Only that it wasn’t.

Instead, Rwanda’s leading daily, The New Times, covered the event in a manner so suffocating it could not only confuse readers, but also it had the danger of confounding space scientists.

Granted, the story by Heritier Bahizi on October 12 and titled Six Rwanda students develop tech to power China’s first AI satellite’ captured some essential elements such as the parties involved, when they signed the agreement of technical cooperation, and some details on the capabilities of the now-enriched satellite.

However, the story – right from the title – needed a lot of improvement to make it easily understood.

For example, the title used the qualifier phrase China’s first AI satellite.”  First? Really? Said who? Inside the story were also some superlative descriptions, such as (in paragraph 5): “At the heart of this technological advancement is the String Edge AI Platform, a robust AI system embedded within the satellite.”

Second, the first paragraph of the story is a hotchpotch of information, served in a packed buffet-like fashion that only leads to factual overload and mental indigestion.

Here: “The Rwanda Space Agency (RSA) and STAR.VISION Aerospace Limited (STAR.VISION) have made a leap in satellite technology by incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into China’s WonderJourney-1A (WJ-1A) satellite.”

The reporter seemed to have been in a hurry for corporate gratification; toasting institutions ahead of the actual implementers of the new knowledge – the six Rwandan university students. For that, the intro became a loaded mouthful whose only claim of place was to delay the story. In journalistic practice, the first paragraph usually contains the simplified promise or claim. It’s a summation of what the story is set to tell.

Third, the reporter did not make any effort to define terms that were at the heart of the story; that the six students developed AI algorithms that could assess land use and generate essential data. Pray, what is AI? And what is an algorithm? Simply defined, AI is the science of making machines that can think like human beings by processing large amounts of data.

AI aims at doing many things at one go. For example, recognising patterns, making decisions and judging. Just like – if not quicker, more accurately and faster than – human beings. An algorithm is a finite set of instructions a machine carries out in a specific order or sequence to perform a particular task.

Lessons learnt? Beats such as space science are technical. Journalists must read widely and conduct personal and resourced research before reporting for clarity. Cut-and-paste reportage must be fully arrested through thorough interpretation of all information got from sources.

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