MultiChoice, university in deal to boost AI skills in SA

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MultiChoice SA CEO Calvo Mawela.
MultiChoice SA CEO Calvo Mawela.

Pay-TV giant MultiChoice has partnered with the University of Pretoria to develop and sustain scarce artificial intelligence (AI) and specifically machine learning technology skills in SA.

This partnership will see MultiChoice sponsor a research chair of machine learning at the University of Pretoria.

MultiChoice and the university say the field of AI and specifically machine and deep learning, is key to the fourth industrial revolution and a truly digital future.

They add there is a severe skills shortage worldwide, and even more so in Africa. According to the organisations, worldwide there are only 6 000 PhDs with little experience and a 20 000-strong skilled pool of talent, with 30% of the global pool of talent coming from only six organisations.

In her budget speech earlier this month, higher education and training minister Naledi Pandor said her department is gearing itself up for the fourth industrial revolution. Pandor indicated she intends to set up a multi-sectoral task team to advise the higher education sector on how it should take up the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution.

MultiChoice says it has identified opportunities for AI and specifically machine and deep learning to add value to its business, ranging from content selection, automated editing and archiving, content recommendations, natural language processing in its customer care platforms and automated piracy detection, to name a few examples.

As this is a specialised field, partnering with an academic institute is a forward-looking way to nurture these skills in SA, the pay-TV operator says.

MultiChoice SA CEO Calvo Mawela says the chair will help the company grow its pool of talent in engineering, to help it build its digital future.

"Technology and innovation is part of our DNA as a company, so this is a natural extension to ensure we remain at the forefront of developments," says Mawela.

"This chair will enable us to tap into the largest and highest internationally ranked local engineering school with an excellent transformation record. And more importantly, we'll make a significant contribution to SA to compete on an international stage in the new digital future."

This research chair, fully funded by MultiChoice, will act as a bridge between the two partners to guide the University of Pretoria and MultiChoice on the projects and research topics to be chosen for sponsorship.

It will include awarding bursaries and support students at all levels. The projects will range from final year and Honours projects through to Masters and PhD degrees in engineering, data science or computer science.

Speaking at the launch of the chair at the University of Pretoria yesterday, deputy minister of higher education Buti Manamela said: "Our country is full aboard the fourth industrial revolution train, and this chapter, which illustrates the partnership between the private and public sector, is indicative of our commitment to place our country at the centre of development.

"Yes, there should be technological advancement and development, and as government, we believe in guiding this in a more people-centred fashion. We are pleased this is taking shape in this manner. And hope to see many more collaborations between the public and private sectors."

"Technology is evolving every day on an exponential scale," said professor Cheryl de la Rey, vice-chancellor and principal at the University of Pretoria.

"It's vital educational institutions invest in researching and educating students about the next waves of technology. We're thrilled to have found a partner who supports us in developing high-level skills and enhancing technology education in SA so as to be at the forefront in the fourth industrial revolution."

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