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The Commodore wants to lead SA into the future

A larger-than-life character who started coding at school wants to lead the artificial intelligence revolution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The Commodore, alias Tokologo Phetla, founder and MD of Christopher Africa. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

The Commodore was born – and it turned out to be deeply appropriate, as the hat was similar to those worn by the captains of industry in the early days of industrialisation of the United States. 

“I feel that when I wear it, it’s almost as if I tap into that spirit of being industrious and innovative, not being afraid to change how things work, which is exactly what these guys did. I think it helps me tap into that spirit, appreciate those that came before me, which is the foundation of why we can do what we tend to do.”

Meanwhile, Christopher is hard at work, and has become a responsive tool, allowing major brands to respond to their thousands of followers in social media as if a human being is acting on their behalf.

“We still do social listening or social insights. The software analyses a pool of hundreds and thousands of conversations and gives you an insight into what those conversations actually mean either for your brand or your organisation. There are many social listening tools but they don’t give you the insight. 

“But most importantly, what makes Christopher unique is the ability for him to respond to conversations in real-time. Because he has real social listening capability, he’s able to now respond to those messages using AI and natural language understanding on the social platform.”

The Commodore, Tokologo Phetla, with members of his team at Christopher Africa. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

Christopher picks up conversations around food or drink, for example, and suggests the client’s products. When loadshedding took South Africa by surprise last year, it picked up on conversations about not being able to watch DStv, and suggested downloading the DStv Now app for smartphones and tablets. It was a massive success, leading to 40,000 app downloads a month.

The system learns as it goes along, and gets better with each interaction – but always with humans overseeing it and keeping it in check if it gets too clever.

Even in a future that appears to be run by AI, we will still need the likes of The Commodore to run the AI itself.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee
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