Tshwane university opens doors to AI hub

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 27 Mar 2023
Communications and digital technologies minister Mondli Gungubele.
Communications and digital technologies minister Mondli Gungubele.

Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) has joined its counterpart, the University of Johannesburg (UJ), to become the second institution to set up an artificial intelligence (AI) hub.

The TUT AI hub forms part of government and academia’s collaboration to develop the AI Institute of South Africa (AIISA), in line with the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR).

Like the hub at the UJ, the TUT AI hub is expected to serve as a common base for knowledge generation, research and development, as well as implementation capabilities of AI applications for areas such as health, agriculture, finance, mining, manufacturing and government.

The launch event, which took place on Friday, also marked the first public engagement of newly-appointedcommunications and digital technologies minister Mondli Gungubele.

Professor TinyikoMaluleke, TUT vice-chancellor and principal, speaking at the event, describedthe AI hubs as the “most foresighted” initiative to come out of the country.

“With AI becoming ubiquitous as machines learn to learn more like human beings, philosophic debates about 4IR have been rendered obsolete.

“When it comes to 4IR, the appropriate slogan is ‘feel it, it is here’. It is in your office, it is in your home, in your car, in aeroplanes, in your wrist watch and in your hands.

“Of all the eight recommendations contained in the summary report and recommendations of the PC4IR, the proposal to establish the Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa is by far the most strategic. It holds the greatest potential for economic impact.”

Maluleke noted it’s an honour for the Tshwane University of Technology to form part of the first two and lead institutions of higher education to host the AI hubs.

“By hosting the TUT hub of the AI Institute of South Africa, we as TUT are playing our part in the founding and shaping of the agenda of AI development in the country.

“Guided by the DCDT [Department of Communications and Digital Technologies], TUT and UJ will map the terrain, shape the discourse, activate the fundamental building blocks and help young South Africans to be excited about AI, as well as help the country to take charge rather than become victims of rapid technological development in AI.”

Gungubele indicated institutions of higher learning play a critical role in ensuring the future envisioned for the country, and the continent at large, is realised, hence the collaboration with UJ and TUT as a start.

"The general application nature of artificial intelligence in relation to South Africa is envisaged to influence digital innovation in four areas: predictive, analytical, diagnostic and automation nature.

“The launch of the TUT hub follows the successful launch of the Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa and the first hub at the Johannesburg Business School.”

Each hub is linked with an economic sector that can be enhanced through AI and a series of catalytical projects.

For example, the UJ hub focuses on industries such as the value chain of manufacturing, retail, fintech, digital mining, the energy sector, digital banking and identity, as well as the criminal justice system.

The TUT hub is linked to the sectors of automotive, farming and food production, 4IR manufacturing, tourism, health, transportation and telecommunications.

"I just want to remind all of you that the adoption of AI is aligned to the recommendation of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution report of 2021,” Gungubele pointed out.

"The power of AI starts with people and intelligent technologies working together within and across company boundaries.

“When it comes to AI, policy-makers must do two things at once: manage the fears about the impact of AI on society, while encouraging innovation.”

The minister noted that based on his department’s analysis, AI has the potential to add more than $250 billion, or 15% of current gross value, to SA’s economy by 2035.

"Government has a key role to play, particularly in opening data to small enterprises. Large corporations might not have the resources to accumulate a critical mass of data.

"AI will be more beneficial to humanity if governments follow a set of guiding principles on responsible AI.”