On Monday 16 September 2019, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) celebrated the official launch of the Institute for Intelligent Systems (IIS), that will explore how to combine machines' superior ability to ingest, connect and recall information with concepts that humans excel at, such as reasoning, judgement and strategising, to develop dynamic human-machine partnerships.
The launch of IIS marks the start of a number of new, tangible steps, including bringing together the foremost academics and researchers, intellectual leaders and experts to develop innovative ways of integrating South African thought and research through leading-edge sciences and engineering. In the field of education, the institute will be providing a Master's in Artificial Intelligence, Financial Engineering and a short learning program in Computational Intelligence. IIS also has ongoing research in strategic focus areas including – Cyber Physical Systems, Optimization, Predictive Maintenance, Controls, Communication etc.
Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ's Vice-Chancellor & Principal said: "We need to start collecting data. This establishment will train people to understand how we can start creating our own versions of twitter or Facebook and not replica the existing ones, as we want our people to be innovative," he said. Our students must create things as they are. They need to understand the art of optimisation."
Also speaking during the début of the institute was Prof Saurab Sinha, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research & Internationalisation, who delved on the strategic context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. "4IR is an era that is shaping up the future of work," he said. This flagship centre will focus on advancing artificial intelligence (AI) research, education, policy and practice to improve the human condition to have the ability to think outside the box."
The unveiling featured a star-studded speaker lineup that included two Programme Directors, Pepper, a humanoid chat robot, powered by AI and Phumzile Nkutha, UJFM News Anchor. Other speakers included: Prof Saurabh Sinha, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research & Internationalisation; Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ's Vice-Chancellor & Principal; Prof Babu Paul, Director, Institute for Intelligent Systems (IIS); Prof Maria Frahm-Arp, Executive Director, UJ Library and Information Centre; Mr Mcebisi Solilo, IIS Master's Student and Dr Nolitha Vukuza, UJ Senior Executive Director, Office of the Vice-Chancellor.
Prof Babu Sena Paul, the Director of the new Institute, pointed out that South Africa is continuing its transformation journey as it responds to the disruptions and opportunities of the technological revolution.
"The current transition sees the country increasingly emerging with a dual role: stimulating the fourth industrial revolution and embedding its initiatives into its operations. In this context, the role of research and innovation towards a coherent, fact-based response to 4IR can never be overemphasised," said Prof Paul.
He said several collaborations and partnerships are being pursued, with the aim of aligning the drive to embed 4IR in the South African context and breaking the silos hindering integration between government, academia, industry and other relevant stakeholders."
Prof Paul concluded that serious challenges in society and industry – such as fraud-prevention, better water resource management, efficient and inexpensive energy, advanced education and better health care – are some of the challenges that IIS aims to tackle more effectively, using a combination of big data and intelligent systems designed to analyse, act and improve. "These intelligent systems are creating new opportunities for industry and business, and new experience for users and consumers," said Prof Paul.