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BusinessDay: The state of artificial intelligence in SA

By Johan Steyn, 13 October 2021

Business leaders need to educate themselves on the pitfalls and advantages of smart technology.

Many business leaders are thinking about ways to use artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Should all of them consider the benefits of the smart technology era? Absolutely. However, in my experience, the greatest reason many AI initiatives fail or do not live up to what was expected is that executives still greatly misunderstand this technology.

To compete on the global stage businesses in SA need to embrace AI and related technologies such as machine learning and robotics or smart automation. So just what is the state of AI in SA?

SafriCloud recently released an interesting report, titled “The State of AI in SA business 2021. Of nearly a thousand local business leaders surveyed, more than half said they are not currently implementing AI in their businesses, mainly because they lack the skills. About 60% said they plan AI initiatives over the next two years, but only 25% believe it is understood at the executive level.

The report suggests that investment in training and skills development in the local market are of the highest priority. Partnering with schools and universities to develop the needed talent is crucial.

Vukosi Marivate, chair of data science at the University of Pretoria and co-founder of the Deep Learning Indaba, writes: “In the last decade there has been a rise of initiatives and organisers in Africa that are increasing training and research in the areas of computing in general and artificial intelligence in particular.”

This comes from his contribution in a recent book, Leap 4.0: African Perspectives on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Marivate concludes that the indaba and Data Science Africa initiatives have contributed greatly to the understanding and practice of AI and machine learning on the African continent.

Another important contribution is the market research by the locally based AI Media Group. Its analysis, entitled “Is Johannesburg the City of ‘AI’ Gold?”, reveals that the most active top five countries in Africa when it comes to AI initiatives are SA, Tunisia, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt. “Johannesburg and the wider Gauteng region encompassing Pretoria appears to be the number one contender for the AI tech capital of Africa,” it says.

Nick Bradshaw, founder and CEO of the AI Media Group, said: “One of our key goals was to assess and showcase the growing emerging market opportunity for AI and related technologies in the Africa region. I am very happy to say there is a rapidly growing ecosystem and perhaps more activity than people first realise.”

The state of AI in SA seems to be one of growing maturity due to a number of educational, business and societal initiatives. Large-scale and rapid adoption is needed across the business spectrum, and for this, business leaders in particular need to educate themselves on the pitfalls and advantages of smart technology.

• Steyn is the chair of the special interest group on artificial intelligence and robotics with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals of SA. He writes in his personal capacity.


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