AI across Africa and the Middle East: The Microsoft view
Artificial Intelligence

AI across Africa and the Middle East: The Microsoft view

According to a new study of AI in business across Africa and the Middle East, commissioned by Microsoft and carried out by EY, AI is an important topic of discussion in 80 per cent of C-suites across the region: but the majority of companies in the study hadn't yet gone further than piloting its use. Twenty-four of the companies surveyed were based in South Africa, and of the respondents 39 per cent worked at C-suite level and a further 52 per cent in senior management.

The relatively low uptake of AI by business across the region may be due to the fact that organisations, excusably given media coverage of the subject, tend to focus on the headlining application of AI: Machine Learning. This was defined for the purposes of the study as "A computer's ability to ‘learn' from data, either supervised or non-supervised". Some 61 per cent of companies in the study stated that they were using or planning to use Machine Learning, a much higher proportion than was the case with any other sort of AI deployment. The study authors added:

Of the different types of machine learning, the most common is supervised machine learning, where software is fed structured data and finds patterns that can be used to understand and interpret new observations.

Or in other words, relatively ordinary data analysis is the most common business "AI" application across the region. The next most common application, seen in the plans of 37 per cent of the respondents, was Smart Robotics: defined as "The combination of AI and robots to perform advanced tasks compared to traditional non-intelligent robots". Again, this sounds like relatively conventional process automation with a new label.

Chatbots: Handle with care

But there are other things that modern technology can deliver under the AI banner. One often-popular option is the use of Virtual Agents - for instance, software chatbots which can be used to handle interactions with customers, potentially far more cheaply than hiring customer service or sales people to do it.

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Lewis Page

Lewis Page has been writing about technology across various industry sectors since the early noughties. He has a degree in engineering and is based in London.

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