Nothing feels the same as it is does for the first time. It was as I was contemplating going to an exhibition and workshop on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Addis Abeba, which opened on April 15, 2021, that I was taken back with nostalgic thoughts of the first time another piece of technology mesmerised me.
The first motor vehicle I ever went inside was an old Italian car. Before then, I was never far from our village’s dusty alleyway - its ends marking in my little brain the end of the only world I knew. That day, we were given a ride as my mother was taking me to a hospital. It was a mind-bending moment. The truck’s engine is fitted in front of the driver’s cabin, dominating the whole show on its skeletal frame, on which various mechanical parts were loosely bolted. As we traveled, it shook and made a noise as if it would break down at any moment. Its heavy exhaust smoke blackened the air, creating a temporary trail.
Soon I started to go to Mercato with the Anbessa public bus, again with my mother and noted the contrasts between the truck and the bus. It was no small discovery. Yet, this was still a small motorised vehicle compare to my next significant encounter.
That was the train. My mom told me anecdotes about it. I once also saw it, this time from the vantage point of her shoulder. It had generous, gushy smoke burping out of the chimney; the crankshaft and the wheels had a synchronised exhilaration; and finally there was mayhem evoked by the loud shrieks as it pulled to a stop.
For those that lived close by, nightfall was unthinkable without the whistles and the sounds of the train arriving or departing. As our home was in the vicinity, the thunder from La Gare train station used to set my mom’s attention alight, waking her up from memory lane. I used to share her concern why it is sometimes late or early in its arrival.
It was soon with my friends that we started to go to La Gare, all on our own. We roamed around the station first, with a keen interest to sort out how it works. After a while, we graduated to jumping on a moving train as it approaches the station, hanging onto whatever came in handy. That was not the only thing I graduated to, but a fascination with a different type of motor-propelled machine: airplanes.
For my question, “How does an airplane fly?” my fourth grade science teacher responded, “It has openings in its wings, moving up and down as birds do.”
As I told my friends the story, it kindled our passion for everything flying, turning our eyes to the sky. After repeated tries, we managed to locate the Bole International Airport. We had no words for the first close look at a Boeing 737 on the strip. Our attempt for a closer look never materialised, yet we were able to disprove my science teacher.
And now, there is artificial intelligence, which is predicted to address many of the problems of humankind. It is one in a long line of inventions, like the automobile or the airplane, that is a consequence of human ingenuity. It will expand our knowledge, helping us comprehend our physical world better.
In our sophomore year in college, we had a computer-relevant topic in a course. It was a surprise when we were taken to our university’s computer centre, which mostly had data storage systems. Alas, for almost eight years afterward, I never came close to computers at the institutions I joined after graduation.
But these first introductions to technology need to be stored for showing at museums. They are history in metal cases and part and parcel of our history. They remind us where we were and hint at where we are going. The exhibition and workshop centre for AI is a promising beginning. We know where we have started; time will tell where our ingenuity will take it.
PUBLISHED ON Apr 24,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1095]
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