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Africa must act now on AI or fall behind

Africa must act now on AI or fall behind

While artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning continues to be applied in key sectors in Africa including agriculture, retail and manufacture, among others, the continent is not fully exploiting the fact that this technology is being democratised and there is subsequently more access.

Experts describe digital services in agriculture is a largely untapped market, one that could be worth over US$2.26-billon.

Other statistics being reported include that AI-related investment is expected to triple by 2020 and in 2021, AI augmentation will create US$2.9-trillion in business value and 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity.

In 2018 Gartner identified AI-driven development as one of the top ten strategic technologies for 2019. The company also classified advanced AI and analytics as among five distinct emerging digital ecosystems and technology trends as part of its Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.

Gartner's AI business value forecast highlights decision support/augmentation as the largest type of AI by business value-add with the fewest early barriers to adoption.

By 2030, decision support/augmentation will surpass all other types of AI initiatives to account for 44% of the global AI-derived business value, the company explains.

Speaking on the sidelines of the 2019 Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Cape Town this week, Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner, said African businesses have to grasp the opportunity that AI and machine learning offer, or risk being positioned behind the growth curve.

Burke said although these technologies are still on the rise, they will remain truly game-changing for decades to come.

"One of the things that is an anomaly in our surveys around technology adoption in Africa is that machine learning and artificial intelligence rated not a priority in Africa, and I think that that is something that African companies need to wake up to."

Several companies remain focused on the continent and ready to take advantage of AI, to incorporate this into services and offerings.

One example is SAS, a specialist provider of analytics software and solutions.

Akesh Lalla has recently taken up the position of country general manager at SAS South Africa and confirmed the company's strategy – for the next two-to-three years - to entrench the value of its evolved platform SAS Viya to leverage open source and cloud, two trends that continue to impact the analytics space going forward.

Lalla stresses that the cloud-native technology is designed to help businesses operationalise their analytics model prior to deployment by enabling them to compare and evaluate analytic models to gage ROI and thereby deploy the right solution at the right place at the right time.

It also addresses three challenges within the analytics space, namely data governance and analytics teams working in silos, and the ability to leverage elasticity and agility of cloud technology.

"Now you have the ability to deploy SAS Viya on-premise, cloud and hybrid environments. With Hyper-scalers landing local datacentres in SA, our customers are now accelerating moving workloads to the cloud. Apart from evolving  our analytics platform, we also have evolved our contracting and licensing models making it easier for our customers to consume our technology."

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