Research centre launch establishes wide domain for AI research

June 2nd, 2016, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT, Articles: PositionIT


The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has partnered with five South African universities to launch the Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAIR) on 24 May 2016. Based at the CSIR and chaired at the University of Cape Town, the centre aims to build research capacity in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and to ensure work reaches commercialisation. CAIR will also ensure artificial intelligence research is spread beyond the traditional institutions of the field.

The five partner universities, or collaboration nodes, are the University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of Pretoria (UP), Stellenbosch University (SU), the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and North-West University (NWU).

The CSIR’s CAIR members with university partners at the centre’s launch.

The CSIR’s CAIR members with university partners at the centre’s launch.

The centre is funded by the CSIR, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), and the participating universities, and the wide research scope of the programme is evident by the variety of university departments involved. These range from the departments of informatics, statistics and computer science, to departments of philosophy and multilingual speech technology. Representatives from each university briefly introduced their research work and interests, which served as a starting point for further networking with interested stakeholders present.

Beyond work in pattern recognition, detection and prediction capabilities, the universities also work in knowledge acquisition in artificial intelligence, machine learning, multi-agent systems, epistemology, semantic technologies, and more. Applications of this research span all aspects of society, from health and biodiversity to work in earth observation, retail, and risk calculation, among many others.

Artificial intelligence has grabbed the public attention by its huge leaps in progress, said Hina Patel, the Executive Director of the CSIR Meraka Institute. She also said that artificial intelligence is driven by the new questions posed by developments such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope and others, along with addressing socio-economic challenges, as well as by competition in this field.  She further adds that the ICT RDI Roadmap, adopted by the SA Cabinet in 2013 identified the need to increasingly invest in AI and Data Science R&D as export potential capabilities through a collaborative ecosystem approach.

The DST’s Chief Director: Sector Innovation and Green Economy, Isaac Maredi said the centre is one way to start addressing South Africa’s “triple problem” of unemployment, inequality and poverty, and that building human capital is a critical outcome of the programme. He further said that with a wide scope and multi-disciplinary approach, the programme has great potential to add value and enhance motivations for further funding for sciences.

Besides its social impact, Dr. Quentin Williams, Strategic Research Manager at the CSIR’s Meraka Institute, said that artificial intelligence could also help South Africa reach a digital advantage.

The programme is the culmination of several years’ work, and was driven by the CSIR’s Group Executive for Operations Laurens Cloete, Hina Patel, Dr. Quentin Williams, UCT’s Prof. Tommie Meyer, and UKZN’s Dr. Deshen Moodley.

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