Programme Director;

Former President Kgalema Motlanthe and Mrs Motlanthe;

Mentors and coaches;

Judges, learners, parents and teachers;

Ladies and gentlemen:

 

I am very excited to be attending the Best of AI in Africa national finals and prize-giving event today, as we have so many of the country's bright young minds here, all brimming with potential.  There is something special about attending an event filled with so many talented young people, all of them girls, with interesting ideas and new ways of thinking about the problems that face us today.

 

The world is changing so rapidly, and there are so many new challenges that countries, from national through to local level, must face up to.  These challenges are varied and often unpredictable, requiring not only that we come up with solutions, but with solutions that are viable and practical.  Doing this, solving the problems of the modern world, calls for a dynamic person, for someone who is able not only to apply her own acquired skills, but also to harness those of her colleagues, friends and neighbours.

 

This is precisely why I believe the Artificial Intelligence in Africa programme is so valuable, effective and empowering for girls.

 

I would like to thank all the sponsors and partner organisations, as well as the many volunteers, speakers, motivators, mentors and coaches, for all they are doing for the youth and particularly the girls on this programme.  The country salutes all of you for your openness and spirit of sharing with the next generation of leaders of this country and beyond.

 

I am informed that, through the AI in Africa programme, 70 AI solutions were developed in 6 communities across 3 provinces over the past year.  A total of 520 learners from 29 schools underwent training and work-shopping to create these AI solutions, some of which will be on display today.  Well done to all of you for your hard work and effort.

 

I would like to bring to your attention the alignment of your efforts with the national priorities of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).

 

The DSI has adopted a Science Engagement Strategy which entails support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Olympiads and competitions, which we believe are very useful tools for identifying youth with potential.  These competitions serve as platforms where learners can mentally and physically engage with science and simultaneously develop problem-solving skills.

 

Furthermore, the DSI has a Talent Development Programme which aims to nurture young people with talent and prepare them for university.  The programme is designed to equip talented learners to access STEM university courses.  Nearly 60 percent of participants on the Talent Development Programme are girls.

 

The AI in Africa programme is thus aligned to the work of the DSI concerning talent identification.  A great aspect of this programme is that it includes the Arts, so that participants are prepared not only for STEM but also for STEAM subjects, with the "A" representing the arts.

 

As you may know, our Department's name was changed this year, from Science and Technology to Science and Innovation, because we strongly believe that innovation is the mechanism for unleashing new products and services.  And it is through activities such as AI in Africa that many of these innovations come about, and that more young people, and especially girls, are brought into the innovation space.

 

An important aspect of innovation that the DSI champions is the protection of the intellectual property (IP) of innovators.  Through programmes such as IP4Kids, learners and their teachers are made aware of the rights of innovators.  

These rights are not restricted to science-related matters, but also include copyright protection of your poems, writings and songs.

 

As you well know, the development of apps is extremely powerful when it comes to solving everyday problems, ranging from the simple to the very complex.  There are so many applications to help us these days, from finding a local plumber to ordering food to be delivered at home or the workplace.

 

Last week, to avoid the "Black Friday" frenzy, a colleague of mine went online at 1 a.m., placed her order, and the goodies she ordered were delivered to her house before 1 p.m. on the same day.  

 

It is no small achievement that in South Africa we have the technology, combined with the necessary logistical systems, to take an order, find the item in a warehouse, package it, label it, hand it over to a courier service and deliver the parcel to the right place and person within 12 hours.

 

Would any of you want to become part of such an economy, where actions and results are needed within minutes, and customers' expectations are exceeded most of the time?  If your answer is yes, then you are in the right place today, at AI for Africa.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, the world of science and innovation is a global endeavour.  Scientists, technologists, engineers and other innovators can work together to solve a problem, even though they may be sitting in different countries or even continents.  This is the new world of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  

 

Do you know that there are companies whose members meet only two or three times a month, who spend the rest of the time working from home or wherever they happen to be. 

 

There are people sitting at home in their pyjamas while making major contributions to solving problems for their organisation.  Within the next decade, these types of jobs and co-innovative products and services will be a reality for your generation.

 

I have noticed that one of the challenges presented to you this year was on climate change and the possibility of influencing human behavior.  It is no coincidence that the theme of the DSI's major science awareness campaign, the National Science Week 2019, was "Facing the harsh realities of climate change".  Climate change is real, and humans need to be more than just aware of this.  Earlier this year, we experienced the devastation of two cyclones that hit Mozambique, serious floods in Durban, and more recently, tornadoes in KwaZulu-Natal.

 

In a world increasingly faced with floods, fires, droughts and other extreme weather events, there is a growing need for apps and tools – developed by young people like yourselves – that will provide us with early warnings, and guide us in reacting to such situations.  If climate change is heavily influenced by humanity, as scientists tell us it is, then it is more important than ever that we are able to influence and change human behaviour.

 

We should not be surprised that a farmer can be relaxing on the beach, and through the technology in her hand, namely a cell phone, be activating the irrigation of the crops hundreds of kilometers away.

 

I am extremely impressed by the themes chosen for AI in Africa this year.  Besides climate change, I see that you also touch on cyberbullying.  These are real issues which impact on many young people.  I am confident that some of you will come up with innovative ideas for tackling these issues.

 

Are you aware that South Africa is a great place for studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics after completing your matric?  We have 26 universities, some of which some are universities of technology, and other comprehensive universities, all which have technology programmes.  The country also has 50 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges, where you can be trained to become an artisan.  Did you know that artisans, such as plumbers and mechanics, can be self-employed and not dependent on anyone else to employ them?

 

South Africa also has massive existing infrastructure and ambitious plans that will require engineers, technicians, technologists and artisans.  We have more than half-a-million kilometres of roads that need to be maintained and upgraded.  We have 36 000 kilometres of rail networks that require upgrading and maintenance.

 

We are also building one of the world's largest scientific projects, the Square Kilometer Array radio astronomy telescope, the greater part of which is being hosted in Carnarvon, Northern Cape.  More than 3 000 antennae will need to be built, managed and maintained over the next several decades.  These are just some of the many opportunities in our country.

 

Before I conclude, I just want to say congratulations to all of you for being selected to compete here.  Being here is already an achievement in itself – you are all winners.

 

It is also important to acknowledge the people who assisted and supported you with your pitches – all the parents, teachers and volunteers who walked the road with you. Their efforts are highly appreciated and valued.

 

In closing, I would like to wish you all well with your school activities next year, and I trust that you will achieve your goals.  I hope that participating in AI for Africa will prove to be a defining moment in your young life, and that it will continue to benefit you for many years to come.

 

I thank you.