Can we manage the AI 'runaway train'?

Africa has an opportunity to truly capitalise on AI technology.
Africa has an opportunity to truly capitalise on AI technology.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and deep learning are realities in the market today.

Being largely consumer-driven, these technologies will have both positive and negative consequences; to exploit the positive will require hard work, adaptability and leveraging in-demand skills sets.

This is one of the key outcomes from a panel discussion at the Meeting of Minds: ITWeb Artificial Intelligence 2018 conference in Johannesburg today.

Willie Strydom, enterprise security architect at Wesbank, and Dr Michael D Grant, CTO of DataProphet, agreed with moderator Dr Jacques Ludik, president and founder of the Machine Learning Institute of Africa, CEO and founder of Cortex Logic, who likened AI to a 'runaway train' and 'rocket', and posed the question of 'what to do with this market reality'.

The panellists said while AI offers a strong opportunity for businesses to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution, and there are a myriad of use cases across many sectors, being able to truly leverage the benefits will depend on the ability to change.

Ludik mentioned that AI will continue to make a difference in jobs involving repetitive tasks; for example in call centre environments. But this will still require human intervention and management going forward.

Grant added: "Look at medical diagnostics, for example; it is a detection system on steroids. I mean who wouldn't want that? But the other reality is that there is a hidden debt that kicks in, a societal debt that we accrue when we build these systems.

"South Africa has such a disparity in education... the manufacturing sector has shed thousands of jobs. We have to find a way to keep humans in the loop and have the ability to self-actualise."

Strydom said much could be done with process automation and it was important not to destroy the human factor. "I believe we are years away from generalised AI; we still require humans to look over what is happening."

The consensus reached was that AI is being used to address sustainable development goals, and Africa has an opportunity to truly capitalise on this technology, if it is able to adapt to change and mobilise the sought-after 21st century skill sets.

According to one member of the audience, these have been identified as complex problem solving, creativity and critical thinking.

The exponential growth in data and extracting value from the data is also helping to drive AI adoption in commerce, with businesses aware that process automation, assisted intelligence, augmented intelligence and autonomous intelligence will find more application because of consumers' desire for convenience.

Strydom added there is evidence of AI in society today and the reality is that it is not a 'fad'. He mentioned home automation as an example. "For people with disabilities, home automation is a dream... there are many consumer-driven use cases. We are going to see more of those types of conveniences coming through."

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