16th August 2018 – Cape Town South Africa: We hear from AI Expo Africa Platinum Sponsors, Accenture Digital, on why they think Artificial intelligence is here to stay – but South Africa may not yet be fully prepared for the coming change.
Artificial intelligence will transform how the world lives and works. Recent announcements by Google have shown just how powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI) can become. The change is inevitable – but what steps do countries need to take today to ready themselves for an AI-driven future? And is South Africa prepared?
A recent industry-focused AI summit held at the White House put a spotlight on the debate. The event was attended by more than 100 senior government officials, technical experts, business leaders and heads of industrial research labs. At the core of the summit: the US government’s focus on leveraging AI for the benefit of US workers and removing barriers to innovation. With it came an awareness of what achieving that goal will require – including the skills people will need to make the most of the new world of work.
“AI and related technologies are creating new types of jobs and demand for new technical skills across industries,” noted a release issued by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. “At the same time, many existing occupations will significantly change or become obsolete. Attendees discussed … a renewed focus on STEM education throughout childhood and beyond, to technical apprenticeships, reskilling, and lifelong learning programs to better match America’s skills with the needs of industry.”
The question remains: how are we faring at home here in South Africa?
“If South Africa embraces AI, we can create jobs, grow the economy and improve productivity. All very relevant given our current economic climate,” notes Rory Moore, Innovation Lead for Accenture in South Africa, emphasising the importance of government’s role in enabling AI as a catalyst for growth. “AI can open up opportunities to create new value, reinforcing how people drive growth in business,” Moore notes. “It can also help people be more productive – by some estimates, leading to a 40% increase in labour productivity by 2035.”
Yet change isn’t far off. According to 2017 research conducted by Accenture, in five years’ time, more than half of consumers and enterprise clients will select products and services based on a company’s AI, instead of the company’s more traditional “brand”. In seven years’ time, most interfaces will not have a screen and will be integrated into daily tasks.
According to Karthik Venkataraman, Head of Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Automation at Accenture Technology, “South African companies need to shape their own journeys towards becoming responsible users and creators of AI. This will require an understanding of our unique business and economic environments, as well as finding the relevant partner for this endeavour.”
In South Africa, Accenture research found that some 78% of local executives say they need to boost their organisation’s competitiveness by innovating through investments in AI technologies. However, only about a third of these organisations are planning significant AI investments over the next three years.
“Given the sudden pivots and opportunities enabled by rapidly evolving technology, we need to remain mindful that the business landscape is constantly being redefined in response to this,” notes Dr Caroline Belrose, Chief Data Scientist and MD for Analytics at Accenture. “Given this dynamic, we need to help business leaders to embrace the advancements of technology and AI to evolve and orientate within an ever-changing market.”
Obstacles remain to AI uptake in South Africa. On one hand, companies are often weighed down by legacy infrastructure, technologies, systems, business models and outdated corporate structuring. At the same time, our workforce is not yet ready for the AI revolution already underway in other parts of the world. Indeed, like workers in many countries elsewhere, South Africans are concerned that AI may affect their jobs and even worsen income inequality. Further issues relate to the quality of education in South Africa (from primary to university levels), the capabilities of our scientific research institutions, as well the quality of our national innovation ecosystems and our lack of a national collaborative mindset.
A July 2017 AI roundtable hosted by Accenture and GIBS Business School revealed both concerns and possible solutions. Rather than replacing humans, it was argued, AI should be harnessed to increase workers’ productivity, with organisations focusing on reskilling their workforces and ensuring inclusive economic growth remains the ultimate goal.
Given that AI has the potential to see certain jobs automated – potentially worsening inequality and eroding incomes for some parts of the population for a period – the imperative for responsible AI, and for policymakers to proactively address and pre-empt its downsides is real. Among the critical issues: identifying the groups most at risk of job displacement and creating strategies that focus on reskilling and retraining people so they can be successfully reintegrated into an AI-driven economy. Sound rules, regulations, governance guardrails and economic policies will also play critical enabling and protective roles.
At the core, the most significant challenges to the adoption of AI are no different in South Africa than anywhere else. They are about preparing people for the intellectual, technological, political, ethical and social questions that will arise as AI becomes more deeply integrated into our lives.
To prepare South Africa – and South African companies – for what’s to come, policymakers must clear the path and help prepare the next generation accordingly. More than this, a strong code of ethics will be needed to make sure growth is inclusive; infrastructure barriers must be removed and a collaborative ecosystem put in place to support AI development. South Africa must start building the competencies it needs to participate in an AI-driven future today.
About Accenture Digital
Accenture solves our clients’ toughest challenges by providing unmatched services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations. We partner with more than three-quarters of the Fortune Global 500, driving innovation to improve the way the world works and lives. With expertise across more than 40 industries and all business functions, we deliver transformational outcomes for a demanding new digital world. Accenture Digital are Platinum Sponsors of AI Expo and the team will be speaking and on hand to meet delegates throughout the event.
- Accenture Building, Woodmead, Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa
- Phone: 27 (11) 208 3000
About AI Expo Africa
Taking place on 9-11 September 2018, Century City Conference Centre, Cape Town, South Africa, AI Expo Africa 2018 is focusing on real world applications & trends driving the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Economy in Africa and seeking to build the largest Business focused AI Community across the continent. With 400+ delegates, 50+ speaker programme, 40+ exhibitor Expo Hall, Innovation Cafe and workshops, the event is aimed at CxO / C Suite delegates with the primary goal of educating business leaders about AI applications and opportunities impacting the Enterprise today as well as generating real business and learning opportunities for sponsors, speakers & AI innovators across the region. If you would like to join the event as a delegate or would like take up one of the exhibition, Innovation cafe or speaking opportunities simply visit the links below
- Register– Save via our Early Bird ticket sale
- Speak– Submit a paper for one of our speaking opportunities
- Sponsor– Secure your company a place in the Expo Hall & networking evening
Press & Media
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone: +27 7957 33206
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/aiexpoafrica
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AIExpoAfrica/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13572883
All trademarks & company names mentioned are protected by their respective owner