South Africa launches military-focused AI hub to harness emerging technologies

South Africa launched a new AI initiative called the Defence Artificial Intelligence Research Unit (DAIRU) at the Military Academy in Saldanha, Western Cape. 

This military-focused hub is designed to deploy AI’s potential in South Africa’s defence sector, as well as in national development and security.

The initiative was launched in partnership with the Department of Defence and the Artificial Intelligence Institute of South Africa (AIISA).

DAIRU is the fourth hub of AIISA and will integrate AI into defence and military operations, as the global trend shifts towards AI-powered military applications. 

The establishment of DAIRU positions the country to take the lead in harnessing emerging technologies for global competitiveness and national interests.

Mondli Gungubele, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, launched the initiative and believes that certain regulations must be implemented to institutionalise AI in the country. These regulations would apply to developing continental and national AI policies and programmes. 

The Minister mentioned this at the National AI Summit held on May 5, 2024, which was intended to share the contents of the draft National AI Plan with key stakeholders and the ICT industry. 

The pre-policy process is required to gather input and incorporate it into the draft plan before it is submitted to the Cabinet System for public comment.

Lieutenant General Michael Ramantswana, Chief of Staff of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), believes that the launch is a significant milestone for South Africa, reflecting the country’s commitment to harnessing AI for military advancement and other socioeconomic growth. 

He emphasised the importance of collaboration and sharing resources to accelerate AI implementation. 

The SANDF’s cyber command and Space Command Section would require an influx of DAIRU-trained AI practitioners. 

The areas of need include “research and development on AI capacity, strengthening the country’s cyber resilience, improving maritime and border security, combating illicit trade and trafficking, and boosting the SANDF’s operational efficiency on and off the battlefield.”

The AIISA was founded in November 2022 to improve AI skills and conduct research to address socioeconomic challenges. 

On the other hand, the DAIRU’s launch is “part of the implementation of the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR), which recognises AI as a vital technology for societal and economic advancement.”

The launch of DAIRU is a significant step forward for South Africa and demonstrates the country’s commitment to harnessing the power of AI for military and socioeconomic advancement. 

With the implementation of the National AI Plan and the influx of DAIRU-trained AI practitioners, the country is well-positioned to lead the way in emerging technologies.

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