Ministry of Artificial Intelligence: The Missing Link Towards 4IR In South Africa

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In 2017 the United Arab Emirates (UAE) appointed a 27 year old Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama as the country’s first Minister for Artificial Intelligence (AI). This appointment was announced via Twitter by the UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. This appointment signalled that the UAE is serious about technology and using it to advance its society. It highlighted UAE’s ambition to be at the forefront of the global technological revolution. The appointment of the Minister of Artificial Intelligence by the UAE should trigger other countries to ask themselves  the following question – does every country need a minister for AI?

The appointment of an AI Minister is critical if countries are to remain relevant in the future. Other countries have embraced AI by setting up institutions that drive their own AI initiatives. Countries such as Canada and China are leading in this regard.

CANADA

Canada’s charge in becoming a world leader in AI research have been taken up by the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau who has spoken publicly about the country’s ambitions at forums.  Currently, Canada’s efforts are mostly concentrated in Montreal, home to Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) and world-renowned AI researchers like Yoshua Bengio and Aaron Courville. The Prime Minister has taken up the mantle of investing in “quantum, AI, robotics and high-value, innovative, groundbreaking areas”.

It can be argued that Prime Minister himself has taken up the responsibility of leading the countries AI efforts.


CHINA

China has outstripped all nations in investment in technology, creating AI talent, issuing supportive government policies and is home to the world’s biggest AI companies. Today, the country has a rapidly growing pool of AI talent, publishes the most frequently cited research papers and has the best universities (Tsinghua University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology) that can compete on a global level.  Currently China has the data, the talent, the money, the regulatory environment and the government vision to become an AI superpower.

South Africa has also shown some signs of preparing itself for the future. Recently   President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed the Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution consisting of 30 members sourced from academia, business and other sectors in society.

South Africa has established the Commission on 4IR  to ensure the country effectively harnesses rapid advances in ICT for inclusive growth and social development. This is a great start towards preparing for the future. This step however is not enough to practically prepare for the future.

The approach by UAE of appointing a Ministry dedicated to AI is by far the best approach to ensure that AI vision is developed and implemented across government. The age of the Minister of AI in UAE is also another important factor about the Minister of this important portfolio. Appointment of a Minister for such an important field ensures that there’s necessary focus for implementation as opposed to just talking. The youthfulness of the leader in this portfolio also ensures that solutions are developed with future in mind and based on latest understanding of technology.

As South Africa makes bold decisions about the future, the type of Ministries that are put in place are more important than the individuals. The Ministry of Artificial Intelligence is one Ministry that can propel South Africa into the future.


Kay Ann