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South Africa launches AI industry body to spur innovation

The South African Artificial Intelligence Association has been launched.
The South African Artificial Intelligence Association has been launched.

As the continent is embracing the Artificial intelligence (AI) innovation wave, an industry body focused on promoting the advancement of responsible AI in South Africa has launched.

The South African Artificial Intelligence Association (SAAIA) is a group of AI practitioners across commercial, government, academic, startup and non-governmental organisations.

The founding advisory board consist of members from a diverse range of organisations, including; Michalsons, GIZ, ExploreAI, Cirrus AI, TinyML Foundation, Augmented Startups, Data Economy Policy Hub, Socially Acceptable, mLab, Zindi, Technology Innovation Agency, ecosystem.Ai, Tshwane University of Technology, Western Cape government and Webber Wentzel.

SAAIA will drive adoption and explore the societal benefits of AI with a primary focus on economic growth, trade, investment, equality and inclusivity.

The formation of SAAIA comes on the back of recent calls for Africa to think strategically about what AI and innovation mean for the continent.

The State of AI in Africa 2023 report prepared by the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law at Strathmore University in Kenya, says Africa is embracing AI in ways unique to the continent and is showing no signs of slowing down.

The report says Africa has 2,400 AI organisations operating across various industries, including health, wellness and fitness, agriculture, legal and judicial services, skills development and insurance.

Dr Nick Bradshaw, the founder of SAAIA, says: “Our research has shown that AI and related automation technologies are impacting 120+ traditional industries globally and creating new opportunities and challenges in a timescale never seen before.

"The pace of this disruption is faster than any other industrial revolution that has gone before it.

“SAAIA seeks to encourage stakeholders the adoption of responsible AI for the commercial and societal benefit of the citizens of South Africa with a primary focus on regulation, economic growth, trade, investment, fairness, equality and inclusivity.

According to Bradshaw, the SAAIA mission is to engage both individuals and organisations, novices and experts, ‘those who are connected and not connected’ so no one is left behind. He says it is of ‘vital importance that the opportunities AI presents are possible and available for everyone to embrace.

To this end, he says, the mission is underpinned by ten key objectives, including serving as an industry spokesperson, providing analysis and research to inform strategy & decision-making, help national, provincial and local governments with policymaking.

In addition, the organisation intends to unite buyers and suppliers to grow the economy, connect SMMEs to funding to create new companies and jobs and attract foreign direct investment to South Africa as the '4IR gateway' to Africa.

Broadly, the SAAIA has a continental agenda to assist African smart tech firms, including showcasing South African AI innovation.

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