Report: How generative AI could transform South Africa
Generative AI is set to revolutionise key sectors in South Africa, from agriculture and finance to health and education. Here's how.
The benefits of Generative AI for South Africa. Picture: iStock
It might seem like a pipedream but generative artificial intelligence (AI) could solve some of South Africa’s most dire challenges.
A joint report released by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Wits University, and Microsoft highlights these transformative benefits.
Generative AI for good
Imagine a South Africa where drones, smartphones, and laptops aren’t just tech gadgets but powerful tools for solving pressing issues.
Or, imagine receiving healthcare advice in your own language, or getting personalised financial tips directly on your smartphone.
And if you are tired of queueing at clinics all day only to be assisted by overworked and underpaid doctors who struggle to give you personalised care, you might want to keep reading.
Dr Martin Bekker of Wits University’s School of Electrical and Information Engineering said during the report’s launch that AI offers new tools to solve real-world problems in practical ways.
Generative AI could achieve this since South Africa is “ripe for AI adoption”. How? Well…
Approximately 77% of South African households had internet access as of 2021. In fact, South Africans have the highest screen time in the world.
And since more than 90% of households have access to a mobile phone, it makes AI tools so much more accessible.
But what does this mean for healthcare, education, financial inclusion, and agriculture?
The report shows how generative AI could streamline healthcare services by automating administrative tasks and freeing up medical professionals to focus on more important matters.
This could be done be developing AI models to transcribe consultations and update patient files automatically.
AI tools could also serve as a round-the-clock resource for health education, offering alerts and advice in multiple languages.
Moving on to the education sector, AI could mitigate some of the challenges unique to South Africa by enhancing access to quality learning resources.
By using technology that helps computers understand human speech or text (called natural language processing), AI-driven tutors could assist students in navigating huge collections of data.
This could go a long way in compensating for the shortage of teachers in public schools.
Generative AI could also be used to develop personalised lesson plans based on a student’s strengths and weaknesses, which would make students feel more empowered in their learning.
AI technology would make financial services more accessible by offering conversational chatbots that can interact with customers in their native languages.
This would bridge the gap for large portions of the population who do not have access to services in their home languages.
AI technology could also save hundreds of hours by drafting legal documents and explaining it in easy-to-understand terms to customers.
And remember: when the costs of serving clients are reduced, prices for clients would also be reduced, so more savings in your pocket.
In agriculture, AI can maximise crop yields by gathering data through sensors, drones, and satellites.
This data can then be analysed by algorithms and used to guide farmers on the best ways to use resources and maximise crop yields.
Not only would it optimise the efficiency and sustainability on farms, but it could also mitigate the challenges posed by climate change and under-productivity.
While the report is optimistic about AI’s promise, BCG’s Nihmal Marrie and Microsoft SA’s Ayanda Ngcebetsha stressed the importance of using AI responsibly.
They advocate for a balanced approach that includes transparency, fairness, and accountability.
“We believe that when you create technologies that can change the world, you must also ensure that they are used responsibly”, said Ngcebetsha.
Marrie concluded: “By leveraging AI there are unique opportunities for South Africa to address key areas of historic inequity. Collaborative action is needed now to unlock these opportunities while also calibrating potential.”