Who are the leaders in artificial intelligence?A new giant in machine learning is awakening – and it’s not the the USA or China.Article by Sven Hugo - 05 April 2019 - Read Time: 4 min
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It’s easy to assume that the USA and China are the world’s artificial intelligence (AI) leaders but you’d be wrong.

The answer as to which country is leading the AI race is India. World Economic Forum data shows that Bangalore is the number one destination in India for startups and home to 40% of the country’s IT industry. The number of startups in Bangalore rivals those of technology hubs such as San Francisco and in 2015 research firm Compass rated Bangalore the second-fastest-growing start-up ecosystem in the world after Berlin.

Furthermore, India is among the top exporters of information and communication technology in The Global Innovation Index 2017. It sits in 8th place in terms of the number of science and engineering graduates, which may be one of the fundamental reasons for its success in these fields.

‘The human eye makes mistakes but the software does not and that’s the power of AI models and data.’

Government support makes a difference

In February 2018 the Indian government recognised AI as an important driver of national development and its finance minister, Arun Jaitley, announced a national AI programme for India to be spearheaded by a government think tank, the National Institution for Transforming India (Niti Aayog). India’s 2018 budget allocation for technological development, including AI and 3D printing, consequently nearly doubled.

Accenture India MD Rekha M Menon said in an interview with The Hindu Business Line that AI could unlock more than a trillion dollars’ economic value by 2035. ‘AI is the “alpha” of all technology trends and someday it will be as pervasive as electricity, truly transforming the way businesses and societies function.’

AI can empower people

While many are fearful that AI will replace people in the workplace, which may be true for certain jobs, it will also create new employment opportunities, says Menon. Capgemini’s research backs this belief, as 83% of firms surveyed said AI had generated new roles in their companies.

Mahesh Ratnaprakash, a radiologist in Mysore who examines as many as 3 000 MRI and X-rays a day, relies on AI that is trained to understand data models, calculate probabilities of recurrences and see patterns. It picks up irregularities that the human eye would not. ‘The human eye makes mistakes but the software does not and that’s the power of AI models and data,’ said Hindol Basu, CEO and co-founder of Actify Data Labs, the company that ‘trains’ computer models to do this.

The State Bank of India announced plans to introduce AI in its operations with a digital platform, You Only Need One (YONO), that offers a host of banking and lifestyle services. Then there’s Lakshmi, India’s first humanoid banker, introduced in 2016, which is programmed to answer clients’ questions intelligently on 125 subjects.

‘Science and technology are value neutral,’ Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said. ‘They don’t have their own intelligence, it depends on us what work we want to take from that machine.’

What about South Africa?

The arrival of Pepper at Nedbank’s digital branch in mid 2018 at the Sandton Gautrain station renewed the AI discussion in South Africa but not all AI comes in a human-like shape. Webber Wentzel, a law firm, uses Luminance, an AI software platform developed specifically for the legal industry, that scans and reviews contracts faster and more accurately than lawyers can.

AI is used by smaller companies too, often in different ways. Daptio is an online learning platform that uses AI to help mentors, teachers and students to understand individual students’ proficiency levels and matches them with suitable content. Further afield, M-Shule (‘mobile school’ in Swahili) is a Kenyan edtech platform that uses AI to create and deliver personalised learning programmes that are accessible via the simplest feature phones to primary school children.

Article by Sven Hugo
Freelance journalist and former editor of Risk Africa.

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