• Old Mutual

Who’s leading the AI race?


With all the technological breakthroughs coming from places like Silicon Valley and Shanghai, it’s easy to assume that the US and China are leading the way when it comes to tech in general. But a new giant is awakening.

Data from the World Economic Forum 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 the city rivals those of technology hubs like 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 for 2017 in the Global Innovation Index. And 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.


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

Research by consulting firm Capgemini, which surveyed respondents from 1 000 companies in nine countries, among them India, showed that more than 58% of companies that embark on AI projects proceed beyond the pilot and testing phase. However, it should be noted the main drivers for this success are US companies, such as Adobe, Accenture and Microsoft, that have innovation centres in India.

Accenture India MD Rekha M. Menon said in an interview with The Hindi 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.”


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.

Accenture has developed AI solutions in the infrastructure, cloud and network space, and to streamline HR processes. For example, a digital adviser, or DiPA, addresses HR-related queries from employees. ‘Tens of thousands of our people have now moved on to more high-value work, in some cases using AI and other technologies to provide more informed services to clients,’ Menon says. On a larger scale, AI can help to boost productivity.

Take Mahesh Ratnaprakash, a radiologist in Mysore who examines as many as 3 000 MRI and X-rays a day. He 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, CEO and co-founder of Actify Data Labs, the company that ‘trains’ these computer models.

The State Bank of India announced plans to introduce AI into 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 client questions intelligently on 125 subjects.

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

Clearly, India is making machines work for them.


The arrival of Pepper at Nedbank’s digital branch at the Sandton Gautrain station renewed the AI discussion in South Africa. For now, the humanoid robot will visit various Nedbank branches and engage with clients on products and services.

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. It scans and reviews contracts faster and more accurately than lawyers can.

Several smaller companies use AI too. 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 via SJS to primary school children.

By Sven Hugo, a freelance content producer and finance writer previously at the helm of Risk Africa.

To read more on getting the most out of your work day, read 'How to handle the most common workplace distractions'.



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