South Africa launches more Artificial Intelligence Hubs as part of wider National AI Strategy Project

Under the auspices of the AI Institute SA the plan is to create a series of hubs dedicated to artificial intelligence (AI) the next one is planned for Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape.  This was revealed by Anish Kurien, Acting director of the TUT AI hub and Advisory Board member of the SA AI Association.

Prof Anish Kurien TUT

Prof Anish Kurien TUT

So far, the multi-stakeholder venture with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has seen the launch of an AI hub at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in 2022, at TUT in 2023, and the third in February at the Central University of Technology.

The fourth AI hub will be launched next month at the SA Military Academy based in Saldanha Bay. The academy is a military unit of the South African National Defence Force and houses the Faculty of Military Science of the University of Stellenbosch. The new hub will be launched on 3rd May and Kurien stated, “The idea is to have this national footprint as the initially-prescribed strategy by having an institute operating at national level. There will be a scaling up of the number of hubs operating in different sectors.”

AI Institute South Africa

AI Institute South Africa

The launch of the AI Hubs signals the realisation of one of the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR) that South Africa establish an AI institute, to catapult the country’s digital future.

They are also 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.  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.  In the case of TUT, it is linked to the sectors of automotive, farming and food production, 4IR manufacturing, tourism, health, transportation and telecommunications.  Like the other AI hubs, the purpose of the TUT hub is aligned to some of the recommendations in the PC4IR report.

Kurien stated “There were a number of objectives that were articulated in that report, one being establishing the AI institute. To be able to drive interest in the institute, there needs to be contribution to building AI skills in the national ecosystem. One of our objectives as an institute is to really capacitate young students and scholars in the space of AI and to expose them to this emerging space.  Part of our objective is to provide necessary exposure on various AI-related skills and that’s where we’ve been putting a lot of effort.”  TUT has been participating in the AI space for quite some time. As a result, the higher education institution has a lot of research and innovation projects that it has collated to support the AI hub.

Dr Nick Bradshaw, Founder and Director of The South African Artificial Intelligence Association (SAAIA) an industry body focused on promoting the advancement of responsible AI in South Africa stated, “This is great news for the AI Ecosystem in South Africa. Having regional hubs focused on key areas of research, industry and commerce helps the nation take advantage of the the local, regional and global “AI Opportunity” which is impacting every sector of the economy and society.  The speed of innovation is very fast, so its key we build a strong community.  SAAIA seeks to encourage stakeholders in the adoption of responsible AI for the commercial and societal benefit of the citizens of South Africa with a primary focus on economic growth, trade, investment, equality and inclusivity.  We look forward to collaborating with these hubs.”

Kurien concluded, “We’ve had a number of activities, ranging from AI in healthcare, to AI in the manufacturing space. We have a very strong initiative of applying AI in the farming and food production space, as well as a new area that focuses on generative AI and large language models for the education sector. We also have interests in the telecoms and transport sectors.  Our breadth is quite wide in terms of application areas, but the emphasis and ethos is to adopt AI technologies and capacitate the students that we train through these various initiatives.”

About the AI Media Group

The AI Media Group is a South African based industry analysis, publishing & business events consultancy specialising in the 4IR / smart tech sector in Africa.  They are curators of AI Expo Africa, the continent’s largest B2B/B2G Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) trade show and publishers of Synapse, the first quarterly trade magazine charting Africa’s 4IR innovation journey. The group also runs AI TV which hosts discussions on trends in AI and 4IR technologies with local, regional and global thought leaders.

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