Start-up eyes SA's emerging robotics, AI market

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 01 Mar 2017
Jannie Strydom, CEO of LarcAI.
Jannie Strydom, CEO of LarcAI.

South African start-up company LarcAI is looking to tap into the country's emerging robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) market.

In an interview with ITWeb, Jannie Strydom, CEO of LarcAI, said the firm was established in 2015 with the aim to leverage advances in machine learning and AI in software robots to automate mundane digital human effort.

According to a recent report by IDC, worldwide spending on robotics and related services will more than double by 2020. The market analyst firm says the robotics market will grow from $91.5 billion in 2016 to more than $188 billion in 2020.

"We craft intelligent process automation robots by combining robotic process automation, machine learning and AI-powered cognitive services," says Strydom.

The company leverages services and technologies such as IBM Watson, Microsoft Cognitive Services, ABBYY, Merlyn TOM, as well as other localised libraries for computer vision, biometrics, machine learning, classification, clustering and deep neural networks.

According to Strydom, 2017 will be the year of the robot and the commercialisation of AI. In SA, he says, robotic process automation really started to get traction in 2016 with the large South African banks and some other segments of the financial services industry as pioneers.

"The initial focus is on the low hanging fruits where many people perform the same mundane and rule-based tasks. As the low-hanging fruits are picked and the solutions start showing return on investment, the focus will move to more complex opportunities for automation," he says.

The result of this will be that robotic process automation evolves into intelligent process automation, Strydom explains.

"Robots are now expected to do more human-like things, such as learning, making decisions that are not based on simple rules, understanding and classifying unstructured content such as e-mails and documents, computer vision, data insights, speech reconditioning and even chatting to people.

"This will also happen in South Africa in order to stay globally competitive. The move into intelligent robotic automation will be a worldwide wave that will carry on for decades."

On concerns that robots and AI will lead to unemployment, Strydom says according to research conducted by Accenture, it is estimated that AI could double the annual economic growth rates of many countries by 2035, transforming work and fostering a new relationship between humans and machines.

Ultimately, he notes, AI technologies will enable people to make more efficient use of their time and do what humans do best: create, imagine and innovate new things.

"AI would really benefit workers by taking over the most mundane and repetitive parts of various processes. AI algorithms can process thousands more documents - and then act faster - than any human, while also being free of human biases, yet most humans would be bored to tears performing such a task anyway. AI can thus free up skilled workers to focus on more business-critical tasks."