University of Pretoria formalises AI and machine learning research

May 30th, 2018, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Prof. Cheryl de la Rey, vice-chancellor of University of Pretoria, and MultiChoice South Africa CEO, Calvo Mawela signing the agreement to establish a chair of AI and machine learning.

MultiChoice South Africa and the University of Pretoria (UP) have entered into a partnership to develop and sustain scarce artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technology skills in South Africa by establishing a fully-funded research chair of AI and ML at the University of Pretoria.

The field of AI, and specifically machine and deep learning, is key to the fourth industrial revolution and a digital future. There is a severe skills shortage worldwide, and even more so in Africa. Worldwide there are only 6000 PhDs in this industry (with little experience) and a skilled talent pool of 20 000 – 30% of which work in only six organisations, such as Google and Facebook.

“Technology is evolving every day on an exponential scale,” said Prof Cheryl de la Rey, UP vice-chancellor. “It’s vital that educational institutions invest in research and educating students about the next waves of technology. Delivering the keynote address at the signing ceremony, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Buti Manamela, said, “Our country is fully aboard the fourth industrial revolution train and this chapter, which illustrates the partnership between the private and public sector, is indicative of our commitment to place our country at the centre of development.”

According to Manamela, innovation and technological development are essential in reducing the challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty experienced in our country. The creation of an innovation architecture will lay the foundation for increased productivity in SA’s industrial sector and contribute to social upliftment.

MultiChoice has identified opportunities for AI and ML to add value to their business ranging from content selection, automated editing and archiving, content recommendations, natural language processing in their customer care platforms, and automated piracy detection to name only a few examples. As this is a very specialised field, partnering with an academic institute, is a forward-looking way to nurture these skills in South Africa. This research chair will act as a bridge between the two partners to guide them on the projects and research topics to be chosen for sponsorship. It will also include awarding bursaries and support students at all levels. The projects will range from final year and Honours projects through to Masters and PhD degrees in engineering, data science or computer science. MultiChoice South Africa CEO, Calvo Mawela said the chair will help MultiChoice to grow its pool of talent in engineering, to help the company build its digital future.

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