The theft of billions of rand stolen from South African taxpayers, could have been prevented if there had been an effective artificial intelligence (AI) system in place to track suspicious spending patterns in state disbursements.
Dr Duncan Coulter, Deputy Head of Department at the Academy of Computer Science and Software Engineering at the University of Johannesburg, said AI was the ideal tool to use to detect suspicious spending patterns in large-scale fraud investigations.
“It could still be used to do a reverse analysis of suspicious spending patterns if the historical data was made available to investigators. Because AI systems are intelligent they can be taught to recognise patterns that are out of the ordinary and in that waypoint to transactions that are irregular and thus enable investigators to track down the culprits who were involved in fraudulent activities.”
He said AI was already playing a major role in stimulating economic growth world-wide because of its ability to increase the efficiencies of virtually every mechanised system on earth.
Without knowing it, many South Africans were already interacting with AI-driven systems through so-called chatbots at call centres where voice systems were helping them to solve problems or even to order a wide range of goods and services.
“The applications of AI are going to get dramatically more wide-ranging and effective over time as IT engineers become more adept at using this hugely powerful technology to improve the quality of life for all humanity.
“Ranging from healthcare to retail, humans will increasingly be interacting with AI-driven systems without even being aware of it,” Coulter said.
AI and its associated technology of big data analytics will be playing an increasingly important role in minerals extraction with mining companies who were on the verge of shutting down some of their most productive mines because they were too old, too deep and too expensive to run, using technology to identify new mineral deposits and creating thousands of new jobs in the process.
Pierre le Roux, Managing Director at Moyo Business Advisory, said artificial intelligence and associated technologies like big data analytics and machine learning were right at the forefront of techniques being used by his team of IT engineers to make a wide variety of corporates ranging from banking to mining more efficient.
“While the South African business community may have been slow to embrace some of the latest IT technologies, the word has gone out that especially in the difficult economic times we are experiencing in this country at the moment, AI and its associated technologies can not only help businesses to survive but to thrive.”
He said the “amazing” thing with AI and big data was that it could accurately predict events that had not yet happened and devise plans on how to capitalise on those events. It could be applied to everything ranging from the discovery of new mineral resources to the streamlining of business processes in the corporate sector and improving the quality of healthcare for the masses.
“It is also been used with great success in the scientific field in the development of new drugs to treat cancer and a wide range of exotic diseases.”
Le Roux said the importance of computing on this massive scale was vitally important for the corporate world where AI and big data had been earmarked as the next great leap forward to help the business community to maximise profits and reduce costs.
“Ultimately it will be the consumer who benefits through cheaper prices for goods and more efficient service delivery.
“We have a brand new pro-business president who has undertaken to promote growth and create jobs.
“I want the government to place the role that technology in general and information technology, in particular, can play front and centre of all their future economic strategies and planning.
“We are on the eve of a business boom in South Africa but we have a backlog of almost ten years of corruption and misrule to catch up on. Now is the time to maximise all of our corporate resources including data and management performance through the introduction of cutting-edge technology,” Le Roux said.
While it was likely that AI would erode the jobs market as was evidenced by the announcement by Nedbank that they would replace the jobs performed by some 3 000 workers with automated systems, it would also create many new well-paying jobs.
“It is the role of government to play an enabling role to ensure that training institutions produce the calibre of worker suited to the new tech environment,” he said.