The ABCs of AI

Joanne Carew
By Joanne Carew, ITWeb Cape-based contributor.
Cape Town, 06 Mar 2019
Dr Jacques Ludik, founder and president of Machine Intelligence Institute of Africa.
Dr Jacques Ludik, founder and president of Machine Intelligence Institute of Africa.

Birds can fly. So can aeroplanes. They are both flying but there are totally different "systems" enabling their flight. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a lot like this.

This was an analogy used by Dr Jacques Ludik, founder and president of Machine Intelligence Institute of Africa, to explain the intricacies around AI during a panel discussion on the first day of Africa Tech Week, taking place in Cape Town this week.

AI is becoming available to a lot of people, across multiple sectors and at an exponential rate, noted John Kamara, founder of Jamborow. In Africa specifically, AI growth is being driven within the fintech, agritech, healthtech and edutech industries, affecting how businesses relate to their customers and how consumers relate to technology.

There is definitely an opportunity for niche AI to cater to Africa's problems and find solutions to real issues affecting people on the ground.

The changes the world experiences as a result of AI are going to be very profound, noted Steve Burke, CEO of DigiBlu. The robots we are talking about when we have conversations about AI do not work like people. They will be able to work 24 hours a day; they don't get tired or need sick leave. This will drastically change and challenge existing organisational structures.

What frightens many people about AI, noted Khutso Ngoasheng, manager of science processing at the SA Radio Astronomy Observatory, is the unknown. We can speculate and make assumptions but we do not really know what peak AI looks like, or what impact it will have on our lives.

In the 1990s, when the Internet really started gaining momentum, people worried that it meant someone would be able to climb out of your computer into your home. And today, we are all carrying the Internet around in our pockets every day. AI creates so much potential for abundance, we just need to be brave enough to embrace it, explained Ngoasheng.

We must not forget that the origin of all of this is human beings, stressed Kamara. The reality is that there are good people with good intentions and then there are people in society who have less savoury intentions. From this perspective, AI could bring about some scary situations.

This means there is a real need to develop guidelines around the ethics and governance side of AI, especially related to how it develops and how it benefits us as human beings, he explained.

Ludik agrees: "Strong AI in the wrong hands can cause havoc. But used in the right way, we can solve so many problems."

If you are afraid of AI, Chris Currin, an AI/data science consultant, had some simple advice: learn. Teach yourself as much as you can and gain a level of understanding around AI so that we can shape a better future and adequately prepare for the changes AI will bring to all aspects of our life.

"When it comes to AI, we're sitting on a gold mine of opportunity; it's up to us to make the most of it."