Universities & government launch Artificial Intelligence Institute

  • The Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa has been launched through a collaboration between the government and two Gauteng universities.
  • It is being earmarked to expand digital skills, address unemployment and provide a bridge between academia, the public sector and industry.
  • At the launch of the institute, the vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg said that the university will be making AI Literacy a compulsory course for all of its students.

A coalition between the Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies, the University of Johannesburg, and the Tshwane University of Technology has seen the foundation of the Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa.

The inauguration of the Institute took place on Wednesday at the Johannesburg Business School, and was ushered in by Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, and vice-chancellor of the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) Prof Tinyiko Maluleke.

According to government, the institute is the first of its kind in South Africa and will expand the teaching of robotics and coding currently being offered in public schools.

Further, government believes it will, “Stimulate economic growth, address unemployment and create a positive social impact.”

The institute is hedged on digital skills propagation and for the continued collaboration between government academia and industry in order to find solutions for, “South Africa and Africa’s most critical and long-standing challenges.”

At the launch of the institute, UJ’s Prof Marwala spoke glowingly about the promising nature of artificial intelligence for South Africa. Marwala gave indication about the undertaking of the Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa.

“Firstly, it is going to work on the application of AI in all areas of our lives, in health, in transportation, in culture and so on and so forth,” said Marwala at the launch.

“It’s going to assist lawmakers in how to craft legislation that is going to work for the benefit of South Africans. It is going to be a bridge, as far as AI is concerned, between government and educational institutions and industry.”

Primarily, it is slated to be an educational institution, and to that end, the vice-chancellor said that the study of artificial intelligence is being made a “compulsory course” in all qualifications at UJ. However, this will not be a technical course, instead, it will be what he calls “AI Literacy.”

According to a 2021 study, AI Literacy is primarily designed to provide an understanding of AI concepts and help make students feel empowered to work with AI.

Basically, UJ is set to provide all of its students with a compulsory “Introduction to AI” course with which they will be able to espouse the benefits of the technology and drive its adoption.

“[The course will enable students to] understand this technology, what it is doing, what is its limitations, what is its strengths, so ultimately you will be able to advise whichever organisation you work for to adopt this technology,” Marwala explained.

Prof Marwala made it clear that absolutely every student, no matter their major, would have to complete the AI course. It waits to be seen how UJ manages this and whether or not it will be successful.

The launch of the Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa can be seen as a major step forward only if practical benefits emerge from it. If real skills can be taught and scaled. The future for AI in South Africa is exciting, but we hope it moves past buzzwords and political promises into something tangible and for the benefit of the country.

[Source – SA News]


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