Wits University has invited Africa’s research community to join its newly formed AI Africa Consortium, which aims to develop a collaborative network focussed on the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and the application of AI in research and innovation.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, vice-chancellor and principal of Wits University, says AI and machine learning (ML) “offers huge opportunities for development and progress in Africa”.

“For us to fully participate in the 21st Century, we must use this ‘scientific renaissance’ to drive innovation and foster the growth of a strong scientific ecosystem. In so doing, we can play an active role in achieving true progress and help steer the socioeconomic trajectory of the African continent,” Prof Vilakazi says.

Wits University has partnered with Cirrus AI, a private sector-led initiative that aims to bring large-scale AI infrastructure capacity and expertise to the doorstep of African universities, research institutions, researchers, and industry collaborators.

“Cirrus is an initiative that aims to secure funding to establish among other things, the first AI supercomputer hub in Africa which will be located on Wits University’s campus. Cirrus has already formed partnerships and relationships with stakeholders in the AI space throughout the world,” explains Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of innovation strategy at Wits University and project leader for the AI Africa Consortium.

“This partnership will promote and drive AI innovation and entrepreneurship through the infrastructure, engineering capacity, and learning programmes that will be set up. Student participation and training will be central in our efforts to develop AI skills in Africa,” he says.

The consortium will also lead engagement and coordination with government agencies and non-profit research institutions on the adoption of Cirrus. It will support data science practices across research fields and aid local academic and research institutions to stimulate AI research and advance the application of AI in industry.

“Wits University has Africa’s largest grouping of researchers and postgraduate students working in the disciplines of data science, AI and ML. We invite all members of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) as well as from other universities and research institutions in Africa to join the AI Africa Consortium and help us grow Africa’s footprint on the global research output map,” says Professor Lynn Morris, deputy vice-chancellor: research and innovation at Wits University.

“We embark on these great undertakings because we remain optimistic about the future of our country and our continent,” Vilikazi says. “There are huge opportunities to create economic activity and solve problems drawing from AI and ML. This will guarantee the future of our society for generations to come.”