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Sage South Africa Newsroom

Sage inspires youth to shape the future with AI

Innovative workshops launch in SA, teaching young people how to ethically and responsibly solve societal problems using artificial intelligence
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – 2 October 2019 – Sage the market leader for cloud business management solutions, today announced that it has successfully expanded its pioneering FutureMakers workshops into South Africa, to help young people address societal challenges using artificial intelligence (AI).

Crime, poverty, unequal education opportunities, unemployment, and drug abuse are just some of the challenges facing young people in South Africa today. They are challenges young people could potentially take on using AI – if equipped with the skills, tools, and opportunity to do so. FutureMakers aims to provide these. 

Launched in partnership with Sage Foundation and the Melisizwe Computer Lab – and designed by AI technologist and humanitarian, Kriti Sharma – the first-of-its-kind FutureMakers programme aims to empower young people to create a better future, using AI. 

From the end of September, students aged between 13 and 17 have been attending ‘no coding experience required’ workshops in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Pretoria. They were taught how to combine problem-solving skills, creativity, and empathy with the power of AI to solve problems that are not getting the attention they deserve from large technology companies.

Sage Foundation Director Joanne van der Walt said, “It must be disheartening for young people in South Africa to see more and more multimillion-dollar technology companies being established all over the world, but not one that’s focused on solving the challenges that prevent them from accessing quality education, decent work, or opportunities to break free from the poverty cycle.

“FutureMakers puts the power in their hands. Our goal is two-fold: to give young people a chance to shape the future of AI and society, and to provide teachable skills which can be passed on to others.”


Today’s problems, tomorrow’s memories

Joanne van der Walt continued, “There’s a lot of talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the wide-scale impact of AI and automation on jobs. Yes, it’s important that young people have the right skills to thrive in the future of work, but they also need to know they have the power to shape the future. 

“FutureMakers is the nudge they need to start thinking differently about problems they see in society and their role in solving them. Young people are at the coal face. They see injustices in their communities. They see the widespread poverty, severe gender inequality, and criminal sexual activity. FutureMakers is our chance to give young people some power to take action.” 

Unlike traditional coding workshops, FutureMakers focuses on the complicated human-machine dynamic. As AI progresses, many jobs will eventually be automated, but the human qualities of creativity, empathy, emotional intelligence, judgement, and reasoning are not easy to automate. FutureMakers sits at the interface of human skills and machine automation and teaches students to nurture the human element while understanding how to train machines to improve the wellbeing of society.

Candice Kern-Thomas is a spokesperson for the Melisizwe Computer Lab Project, the community organisation trained to deliver FutureMakers on the ground in South Africa. She said, “We need to educate young people about what the future of working in technology really means. While we are doing this, we introduce young people to the importance of ethical, responsible technology, and their role in influencing it. 

“With FutureMakers, we want to inspire young people to engage in AI and AI education, to introduce skills that businesses will need in future, and to contribute to education and employment pipelines. We want young people in Africa to be contributors to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and not just consumers of it. Workshops like these open up this opportunity for them.”



AI for everyone

In his State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government realises the importance of preparing young people for the jobs of the future and will introduce subjects including coding and data analytics at primary school level.

However, Kriti Sharma, who developed the workshop curriculum through her organisation AI for Good, has said success means more than teaching children technical skills in computing and IT.

She added, “Curriculums must include basic computing skills and coding to prepare children to work with automated technologies like AI in the near future. But they must also teach non-technical skills, like problem-solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration.

“FutureMakers is just the beginning. Sage Foundation appeals to the public and private sectors to help develop local AI skills so that young people are able to go on to train others.

“We have to bring AI down to earth for children. We have to encourage them to ask big, bold, and broad questions and expand their curiosity beyond their immediate circumstances. They know what the challenges are. They know what needs to be done. It’s time the people building technology accurately represent the people they are creating it for.”

Sage Foundation, which partnered with AI for Good to develop the workshops, delivers Sage’s global programme of philanthropy. Sage Foundation’s head, Debbie Wall, said, “The best thing the technology community can do, is to debunk the notion that only people who know how to code can work with AI. Instead, the world needs to focus on lowering the educational and psychological barriers to entry for computer-skill training and AI literacy.”

To sign up to the workshops in South Africa, please click here. And take a look at our short film for young people here.