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AI is about making the world a better, easier place to live

Johannesburg, 06 Oct 2020
Read time 3min 20sec
Vaughn Naidoo, CTO, Altron
Vaughn Naidoo, CTO, Altron

Artificial intelligence was previously known as the realm of science fiction, not generally in a good way, but today it forms an integral part of our lives. Even though it doesn't replicate human thought processes, it adds a critical layer of intelligence to our day-to-day lives.

If you have ever used a chatbot to schedule a doctor's appointment, drive music recommendation or had a spam or malware notification, you've benefited from the advancements in AI.

All of these technologies, from digital assistants like Siri and Alexa to self-parking, and soon self-driving, cars depend on the use of algorithms that 'learn' more about you and your environment through every interaction.

Vaughn Naidoo, Altron Managed Solutions CTO, comments that the impact these services have on our lives is only starting to become evident. As AI improves, the ability to automate many mundane tasks will change the nature of the workplace.

Changing the world of work

"McKinsey estimates that 50% of current jobs are automatable; taking advantage of robotic process automation, we are already seeing the use of software bots working in partnership with people to deliver optimised customer experiences. In manufacturing environments, as well as finance, healthcare and logistics, automated systems are used to quickly and efficiently perform tasks or answer queries, leaving the humans free to focus on more complex or nuanced activities.

"For those concerned about job losses, it's less about jobs lost and more about the opportunity for people to retrain and deliver these higher-value services."

Integral to any discussion around AI is the issue of ecosystems. While the services they deliver are mainly transparent to consumers, companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Amazon and Intel are investing in AI platforms that power these services.

These platforms consist of two essential elements: the existing software platform and their complementary apps. The platform serves as the foundation on which outside parties can overlay products or services.

"Some people are concerned about the potential for larger technology companies to dominate this space, using their reach to keep people locked into their chosen ecosystem. However, the pace of innovation means that those companies that embrace open standards and allow interoperability are likely to come out ahead. In addition, the heterogeneous nature of business and consumer applications implies that the ability to interoperate with other ecosystems seamlessly is not negotiable."

He adds that these systems aren't infallible. "Any AI system is only as good as the data it has access to. In the early days, this was a limiting factor. Still, greater awareness has meant that companies understand that the value of AI investments links directly to investment in data quality."

Improving service delivery

Leveraging the power of data and AI goes far beyond organisational efficiency. These services have the potential to have a direct impact on the quality of life for billions of people across the globe. For governments, AI is a critical tool in being able to take the massive amounts of information they generate and create insights that will allow them to decide where to focus their efforts to deliver the maximum impact. This could include determining where to locate schools and housing, what areas need more healthcare facilities and even monitoring roads to decide where to upgrade infrastructure or focus maintenance efforts.

"The need for government to effectively use their limited spending power is even more important now, with COVID increasing the demands on governments," says Naidoo. "This requires that all expenditure is optimised and it's not possible to do this without the insights that data and AI provide."

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