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New AI Institute is key to South Africa’s navigation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution



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First published by Daily Maverick on 28 March 2023.

by Prof Tinyiko Maluleke and Prof Letlhokwa Mpedi

As the country’s AI capability and application engine, the Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa will address arising ethical concerns.

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Stanford-based Chinese-American professor Fei-Fei Li, an expert on visual object recognition AI, recently discussed the importance of vision throughout human evolution, and both prehistorically and in the 21st century.

New AI Institute is key to South Africa’s navigation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

During evolution’s ‘big bang’, the Cambrian Explosion, which resulted in explosive speciation of animals more than 500 million years ago, vision became the primary driving force. Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is poised to change the way humans live, work, communicate, and shape the environment 500 million years later.”

We have now seen the fulfillment of this prophecy. Human evolution has been accelerated by artificial intelligence, which is now considered the “vision” propelling it forward. A key enabling technology for advancement is intelligent technology, or computers that are able to mimic human intelligence.

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Our argument is that AIISA’s establishment provides the very “vision” that the country needs in order to successfully navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

We need intelligent technology now more than ever before, as confirmed by the Covid-19 pandemic – and the 4IR is upon us. We have witnessed sweeping changes in our world, society, and even the way we interact as a result of the 4IR – a set of technologies based on artificial intelligence. As a result, we have developed ways to respond to the shift.

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Prof Tinyiko Maluleke and Prof Letlhokwa Mpedi.

Klaus Schwabs seminal 2016 work, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, describes the overarching shifts that will come and argues that “a shared understanding will be critical to shaping a shared future with common objectives and values ”.

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Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) launched the Artificial Intelligence Hub on Friday, 24 March, signaling South Africa’s clear intention not to fall behind the explosion of AI technologies in the world. TUT, the University of Johannesburg (UJ), and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) put the finishing touches on an important chapter and a more entrenched commitment to the 4IR (fourth industrial revolution).

In accordance with the key recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the 4IR, our three entities created the AIISA in November 2022, embedded within the state but collaborating with higher education institutions.

Having more than 100,000 students between the two institutions, TUT and UJ are well positioned to establish AIISA as leaders in the introduction of 4IR in higher education.

Recent years have seen the two institutions embark on various 4IR initiatives together. This has helped UJ and TUT establish themselves as leading thinkers and innovators in 4IR. This institution’s influence in this space reaches far beyond South Africa’s borders to Africa and beyond. It has collaborated with international institutions on several projects over the years.

The focus

Research and development are central to AIISA’s mandate, with a particular focus on the deployment of AI technologies in specific private and public sectors. AIISA’s inclusion of training in its mandate will enhance human capital investment. Due to its aims, the AI institute is envisioned as a driving force in the development and application of AI across the nation’s sectors and as a means to deal with arising ethical dilemmas.

It is ultimately the goal to connect up with AI centers across the continent and contribute to the invitation and expansion of AI expertise across the continent. Under the guidance of the DCDT, TUT and UJ will use this institution to map the terrain, create the discourse, and activate the fundamental building blocks of artificial intelligence.

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The TUT AI Hub will focus on developing AI technologies for industries such as motor sports, farming and food production, manufacturing, tourism, transport, health, and telecommunications. South Africa, which is facing economic hardship, has much potential in these areas.

South Africa’s economy is at risk of stagnation due to power cuts, the International Monetary Fund warned last week. As a result of an unprecedented energy crisis, infrastructure and logistics bottlenecks are widening, posing a threat to stagnation in South Africa.”

Our battered economy has taken another hit after an alarming 2022 economic performance. During the fourth quarter of 2021, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng experienced massive economic disruption due to riots following the outbreak of riots in the third quarter of 2021.

Seven of our ten industries contracted, as indicated by the numbers. Furthermore, South Africa’s GDP has grown only by 0.61% on average since the advent of democracy.

Navigating a new world

Our country is in desperate need of solutions. Global competitiveness has been negatively affected by a number of factors, according to the Swiss-based Institute of Management Development’s 2022 World Competitiveness Yearbook: high unemployment, especially among the young; shrinking fiscal space; ongoing electricity supply problems and rolling blackouts; and a lack of decisive socioeconomic initiatives.

Our institute will play a pivotal role in navigating a post-pandemic world, rebuilding our economy, and participating proactively in the 4IR revolution. During his first year as president, Cyril Ramaphosa said: “We were left behind by the First, Second, and Third Industrial Revolutions, but we will get ahead of the Fourth and Fifth.”

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As South Africa establishes the AIISA, it signals to the world that it won’t act as a mere bystander in the 4IR era, nor a mere consumer. The institute’s establishment demonstrates the country’s commitment to defining and shaping its own digital identity and destiny.

Tshwane University of Technology is headed by Vice-Chancellor and Principal Tinyiko Maluleke.

University of Johannesburg Vice-Chancellor and Principal Letlhokwa Mpedi.

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  • For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Phaphama Tshisikhawe, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
  • Tel: +27 12 382 4711
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