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SA’s answer to 4IR will be shaped by proactive policy development

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 01 Nov 2019

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the great careers of the future brought on by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

This is the sentiment Arthur Goldstuck, ICT analyst and MD of World Wide Worx, shared with learners during a 4IR panel discussion organised by the Nedbank Foundation, in partnership with non-profit body ORT SA.

Earlier this year, Goldstuck’s organisation, in partnership with Syspro, released a study looking at the uptake of AI in South African enterprises. The market research found only 13% of corporate SA is currently using AI, attributing the high cost of skills for implementing AI as a significant obstacle to adoption.

With all the hype about 4IR from government leaders, South African youth have been questioning where they fit in and what this all means for their future careers.

While he doesn’t have all the answers, Goldstuck said there is strong evidence of the impact of AI in positions that require strong decision-making. “Plan an AI career and your future is made.”

AI in sport

To drive his point across, Goldstuck stated the Spanish League, La Liga, is a classic example of AI in action. He described it as one of the most AI-driven sports bodies in the world.

He explained that La Liga has been transformed by technology, with AI at the forefront of this transformational change. “Now for the past six years, until the last season, Spanish clubs dominated the European cup championships. Until this last season, you had two or three Spanish clubs, sometimes even four in the semi-finals. It was only this season that English football suddenly caught up.

“How did they suddenly catch up? They began using the same technology the Spanish had been using for the last five or six years.”

A key differentiator for the Spanish League, he noted, is that during the match, there is a person sitting with an iPad passing information to the manager, who then is able to make split-second decisions based on the analysis that's been delivered to the technical assistant.

“The analysis contains everything from the work rate of each of the players, who is moving around the field, whose passes are the most accurate or least accurate, suggesting they are more focused or less focused, or fatigued and should be substituted.”

The other element that's changed significantly is the use of AI to help in refereeing decisions, Goldstuck added.

The English League has caught up to video assistant refereeing but it’s still very controversial, because they're still learning how to use it, he stated. In Spain, they've been using it for quite a while.

However, the question a lot of people are asking is: will AI replace the referee? “If the referee has to go and speak to the cameras and machines on the side of the field, do you need a referee? But what actually happened is that La Liga referees are now the best paid in the world.

“This is because they make the best decisions. They make the most accurate decisions based on factual information, not their guess of what is happening on the field. And this is what AI is doing for people in decision-making positions.”

Lacklustre approach

Turning attention to how SA’s government is driving policy geared towards new technologies, it was pointed out the state has a reactionary approach to adoption of new technologies.

This is the admission made by Mbombo Maleka, content advisor to the Portfolio Committee on Communications in Parliament, noting this creates a backlog in terms of how to create policy that is relevant, and more so, regulation.

Maleka cited delays in issuing policy on high-demand frequency spectrum as a prime example. “Spectrum has been seen as a great opportunity for the country to catapult itself and provide broadband for all. I'm sure everyone in the room will agree that without connectivity, all these technologies that we are talking about are irrelevant.”

He pointed out the country has always had a policy on trying to make broadband available for everybody, but the process of freeing up spectrum has encountered delays.

“We've got a very lacklustre approach to developing policy, which ends up actually impacting negatively on society itself,” Maleka conceded. “There needs to be more of a proactive approach to policy development.

“Hopefully not to politicise policy because we've got serious challenges around political interference in areas where we don't necessarily need political interference. If you know that you need spectrum for a particular purpose, release that spectrum so that people can enjoy the benefits.”

Maleka expressed that in-as-much as he is a technocrat who supports the committee’s strategic direction, ultimately it is the politicians that make the decision.

“I think maybe we need more of an approach where it’s the citizens that drive the policy direction in the country because clearly our government has failed us in as far as ensuring they ascribe to global practice and releasing relevant policies for this purpose,” he concluded.