Artificial intelligence will transform how the world lives and works. Recent announcements by Google have shown just how powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI) can become. The change is inevitable – but what steps do countries need to take today to ready themselves for an AI-driven future? And is South Africa prepared?
A recent industry-focused AI summit held at the White House put a spotlight on the debate. The event was attended by more than 100 senior government officials, technical experts, business leaders and heads of industrial research labs. At the core of the summit: the US government’s focus on leveraging AI for the benefit of US workers and removing barriers to innovation. With it came an awareness of what achieving that goal will require – including the skills people will need to make the most of the new world of work.
“AI and related technologies are creating new types of jobs and demand for new technical skills across industries,” noted a release issued by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. “At the same time, many existing occupations will significantly change or become obsolete. Attendees discussed … a renewed focus on STEM education throughout childhood and beyond, to technical apprenticeships, reskilling, and lifelong learning programs to better match America’s skills with the needs of industry.”
The question remains: how are we faring at home here in South Africa?
If South Africa embraces AI, we can create jobs, grow the economy and improve productivity. All very relevant given our current economic climate, which emphasises the importance of government’s role in enabling AI as a catalyst for growth. AI can open up opportunities to create new value, reinforcing how people drive growth in business. It can also help people be more productive – by some estimates, leading to a 40% increase in labour productivity by 2035.
Yet change isn’t far off. According to 2017 research conducted by Accenture, in five years’ time, more than half of consumers and enterprise clients will select products and services based on a company’s AI, instead of the company’s more traditional “brand”. In seven years’ time, most interfaces will not have a screen and will be integrated into daily tasks.
According to Karthik Venkataraman, Head of Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Automation at Accenture Technology, “South African companies need to shape their own journeys towards becoming responsible users and creators of AI. This will require an understanding of our unique business and economic environments, as well as finding relevant partner for this endeavour.”
In South Africa, Accenture research found that some 78% of local executives say they need to boost their organisation’s competitiveness by innovating through investments in AI technologies. However, only about a third of these organisations are planning significant AI investments over the next three years.
Obstacles remain to AI uptake in South Africa. On one hand, companies are often weighed down by legacy infrastructure, technologies, systems, business models and outdated corporate structuring. At the same time, our workforce is not yet ready for the AI revolution already underway in other parts of the world. Indeed, like workers in many countries elsewhere, South Africans are concerned that AI may affect their jobs and even worsen income inequality. Further issues relate to the quality of education in South Africa (from primary to university levels), the capabilities of our scientific research institutions, as well the quality of our national innovation ecosystems and our lack of a national collaborative mindset.
A July 2017 AI roundtable hosted by Accenture and GIBS Business School revealed both concerns and possible solutions. Rather than replacing humans, it was argued, AI should be harnessed to increase workers’ productivity, with organisations focusing on reskilling their workforces and ensuring inclusive economic growth remains the ultimate goal.
Given that AI has the potential to see certain jobs automated – potentially worsening inequality and eroding incomes for some parts of the population for a period – the imperative for responsible AI, and for policymakers to proactively address and pre-empt its downsides is real. Among the critical issues: identifying the groups most at risk of job displacement and creating strategies that focus on reskilling and retraining people so they can be successfully reintegrated into an AI-driven economy. Sound rules, regulations, governance guardrails and economic policies will also play critical enabling and protective roles.
At the core, the most significant challenges to the adoption of AI are no different in South Africa than anywhere else. They are about preparing people for the intellectual, technological, political, ethical and social questions that will arise as AI becomes more deeply integrated into our lives.
To prepare South Africa – and South African companies – for what’s to come, policymakers must clear the path and help prepare the next generation accordingly. More than this, a strong code of ethics will be needed to make sure growth is inclusive; infrastructure barriers must be removed and a collaborative ecosystem put in place to support AI development. South Africa must start building the competencies it needs to participate in an AI-driven future today.
Welcome to world of 2099
The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.
Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.
This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.
Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.
As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.
“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”
The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.
“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
Use the page links below to continue reading about Tan’s visions.
Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com
This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.
Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.
What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.
However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.
As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.
It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.
The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.
To enter the competition follow the steps below:
Competition entry details:
3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.
4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.
5. The competition is only open to South African residents.