It’s here whether we like it or not, so it’s important to start having the discussions about what role artificial intelligence (AI) has to play in our practices and patients’ daily lives.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is bionic – part human, part machine. For now, at least. Few topics can simultaneously presage the end of humankind as we know it, while celebrating the unlimited possibilities of creative problem-solving. The National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) unpacked the progression, potential, and pitfalls of AI during its recent Pitfalls of AI Discussion Forum. Jansie Niehaus, executive director of the NSTF, referred to the rapid changes in the world of work introduced by 4th industrial revolution (4IR) technologies and the robust discussions elicited around the many unknowns, and even knowns, of these technologies. Recent media coverage of chatbots ChatGPT and Bard AI has added considerable fuel to the fire.
So, what are we to do? With the genie out of the bottle, so to speak, decision- and policymakers’ best recourse seems to be to build well-considered regulatory frameworks, ferociously fast, with clear communication imperatives. To do so, equally fast familiarisation with the potential and risks of AI is required.
Ziaad Suleman, group chief commercial officer of network solution company EOH, reiterated a point also made by other speakers: “How we use technologies lies in the hands of the users – the people and the leaders. So, we could either race towards danger or we could utilise it in a productive manner that benefits people.”
UP PRODUCTIVITY, UP ECONOMIC GROWTH
“We are increasingly dependent on technology to create more efficiency within our lives and our business processes, thus driving economic growth. According to Accenture, AI could increase productivity by up to 40% by 2035. Eventually, what we have is an enhancement of automation and productivity, our supply chains and economic growth should therefore multiply. Studies show a greater growth rate because of technology. Not simply because economies are changing but because we can drive better outcomes that are more predictable in a shorter period.”
APPLICATIONS AND BENEFITS OF AI
Dr Ahmed Vahed, director: Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), listed several applications and benefits of AI, including drug discovery and diagnosis, personalised medicines, security-related benefits, intelligent tutoring systems in the education space, automated production and manufacturing as well as other benefits like eliminating human error, 24/7 availability, freeing up human beings from repetitive jobs, reducing costs, and increasing production and efficiencies.
Krish Chetty, research manager: Equitable Education and Economies, Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), said another game changer is the benefits for small businesses regarding more efficient customer service, off-the-rack solutions, transformed marketing processes, cost and time benefits, and greater insights into competitors’ business processes. With generative AI (like ChatGPT, Bard, and others), small businesses can have access to expert knowledge on issues that used to eat up their budgets – legal, financial advice, marketing etc.
SOUTH AFRICAN AI ECOSYSTEM
Prof Deshen Moodley, Associate Professor: Department of Computer Science, University of Cape Town; and co-director: South African National Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research Unit (CAIR) spoke about establishing an AI innovation and capacity development ecosystem in SA “There is lots of potential for AI to help with development in SA, but implementation has been slow. How do we navigate the complexities and where do we focus?”
“The CAIR is the Department of Science and Innovation’s research and capacity development programme comprising 10 research groups and two emerging groups across eight universities. Key objectives include developing a world-class AI research and teaching capability in SA, supporting sustainable and effective socioeconomic development, and building an accredited national and international AI research network that promotes AI research and technology in SA.”
Prof Moodley also advocated for a coordinated approach to AI and development. Without coordinated interventions, innovative AI applications will develop in an ad hoc manner and will be constrained to specific application areas. Also, niche technology companies and start-ups will develop advanced expertise and compete to dominate the AI space, driving up the cost of AI and limiting it to specialised applications that require large capital investments. The establishment of local, regional, and national AI innovation and development ecosystems is thus key for developing skills, remaining dynamic and agile, and accelerating innovation by making AI accessible to a broader community and lowering the cost of AI. Capturing the overall sentiment of the discussion forum, Suleman said: “All of this means that as we think about how we utilise AI, the sources of different data, we must balance the benefits and the risks. We need to make sure that we collaborate in ways that ultimately control the technology – we maximise the benefits and make sure that we control the risk.”