The Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Hon Mondli Gungubele in partnership with the Department of Defence launched the fourth hub of the Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa (AIISA), the Defence Artificial Intelligence Research Unit (DAIRU), at the Military Academy in Saldanha, Western Cape.

Mondli Gungubele, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Opening the Hub.

The DAIRU aims to harness the transformative power of AI to elevate South Africa’s defence sector. In the face of the global proliferation of AI, this ground-breaking initiative will ensure that South Africa not only keeps pace but leads the way in utilising cutting-edge technology to maintain strategic advantage and national security.

Defence Artificial Intelligence Research Unit (DAIRU)

In his keynote address at the ceremony, Non Minister Mondli Gungubele, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, remarked that the initiative is not just symbolic; it represents a strategic move towards leveraging AI for national development and security. He emphasised the transformative power of AI and its potential to revolutionise various sectors.

Gungubele said that AI is being rapidly adopted globally and has the potential to surpass human abilities. Artificial Intelligence crosses a broad spectrum, from Narrow AI, which excels in specific tasks, to General AI, which can outperform humans in intellectual tasks, and the theoretical realm of Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI).

The integration of AI into defence and military operations was emphasised, acknowledging the global trend towards AI-powered military applications and the need for proactive governance in this sphere. The establishment of the DAIRU positions the country as a leader in harnessing emerging technologies for global competitiveness and safeguarding national interests, guests at the ceremony heard.

Lieutenant General Michael Ramantswana, South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief of Staff, noted that the inauguration of the DAIRU marked a significant milestone for South Africa, reflecting the nation’s commitment to leveraging AI for military advancement and broader socio-economic growth.

The initiative is not only about bolstering military prowess but also about positioning South Africa as a leader in AI innovation on the continent and globally, attendees at the launch were told.

From radar development in World War II to the advent of GPS and the internet, the military has consistently embraced emerging technologies to gain a strategic advantage. The South African National Defence Force’s investment in AI research and development through DAIRU reflects a proactive approach to staying abreast of technological advancements.

“We do not just want to be consumers of the technology,” Ramantswana said. “The SANDF should also strive to innovate new artificial intelligence solutions.”Collaboration with industry and academia is deemed essential for the success of the DAIRU, Ramantswana emphasised, enabling the SANDF to leverage expertise, share resources and accelerate progress in AI implementation.

Dr Moses Khanyile (Director: DAIRU) underscored the opportune timing of the event, aligning with the drafting of the African Union’s formulation of a Continental AI Strategy. “The uneasy peace that has been in existence between the superpowers for the last seven decades is directly attributable to the possession of nuclear weapons,” Khanyile noted. “However, the discovery of artificial intelligence technology has ignited a new global digital arms race.” This has far-reaching implications if left unregulated and he emphasised the imperative for oversight.

The SANDF has already established a cyber command within the Defence Intelligence Division and the Space Command Section within the South African Air Force and these capabilities need continuous flows of highly skilled AI practitioners, such as those produced by the DAIRU.  This includes research and development on AI capacity, strengthening the country’s cyber resilience, improving maritime and border security, combating illicit trade and trafficking and boosting the SANDF’s operational efficiency on and off the battlefield.

Dr Nick Bradshaw, Founder and Director of The South African Artificial Intelligence Association (SAAIA) who attended the ceremony stated, “We are an industry body focused on promoting the advancement of responsible AI in South Africa and it’s essential we collaborate with these new AI Hubs – public private partnerships will be key to how we all embrace the AI opportunity and challenge with equal measure. 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.”

Prof Anish Kurien AIISA TuT Hub (left) and Dr Nick Bradshaw SA AI Association (Right)

Bradshaw concluded, “Having a diverse set of AI Hubs is also great news for the wider AI Ecosystem in South Africa and wider region.  Knowledge should not be concentrated in just one or two academic institutes, rather it needs a collective voice to ensure we get things right.  Having regional hubs focused on key areas of research, industry and commerce helps the nation take advantage of the the local, regional and global dividend as well as solve the challenges this rapid pace of innovation is presenting to us.”

Institutions like the South African AI Institute and military academies are pivotal players in preparing national defence forces for digital warfare.  The DAIRU seeks to achieve these objectives by, amongst others, utilising resources within the government, Stellenbosch University (the Military Academy houses the Faculty of Military Science) and the private sector. The establishment of the Defence AI Research Unit exemplifies a commitment to spearhead AI applications in defence within the African context.

The AIISA was established in November 2022 to promote the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) skills and research capabilities in response to socio-economic challenges. The launch of the DAIRU is part of the implementation of the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on 4th Industrial Revolution (PC4IR), which recognises AI as a vital technology for societal and economic advancement.

Read article and more about the launch HERE

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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