Africa is falling behind when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI). This is according to the 2020 Government AI Readiness Index recently published by Oxford Insights. But this doesn’t mean that every country across the continent isn’t making use of AI.
According to the Index, Mauritius was the highest-ranked African country coming in at 45th out of 172 countries across the world. “Mauritius approach to AI is fantastic,” says Richard Stirling, Oxford Insights CEO says. “They have a clear strategy as to what they want to achieve. They are also bringing the private sector and academia with them. They have a council with all of these sectors on them. They are investing in the skills and they are thinking about how that can be transferred back into the industry.” Other African countries that made the AI readiness list include South Africa (59th), the Seychelles (68th), Kenya (71st) and Rwanda taking the 87th spot.
SA as an AI champion
But plans are being put in place to catch up. President Ramaphosa put together the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in 2019 in an effort to help government take advantage of the digital industrial revolution. And at the beginning of October, the commission released a report highlighting key focus areas for government, the private sector and civil society. This report suggests that an artificial intelligence institute be established.
Speaking after the release of the report, communications and digital technologies Minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, shared the commission’s beliefs that one of the key drivers of 4IR is building artificial intelligence capabilities to benefit South African industry and also to aid our African neighbours.
At a grassroots level, government is looking to review school curriculum in an attempt to drive digital literacy in South African schools and to develop the skills SA needs going forward. Subjects and topics that will be incorporated into future curriculum include 3D printing, big data analytics, gamification, software engineering and AI application development.
And there are already a few AI success stories. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, GovChat, South Africa’s largest citizen engagement platform, launched a coronavirus chatbot using Amazon Lex, an AI service that for builds conversational interfaces into any application using voice and text. This chatbot offers health advice and recommendations, as well as providing information on the nearest testing facility, sending test results and giving citizens the ability to report any symptoms that they, or their family members, may be experiencing.
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