At the Policy Innovation Lab we have spent a lot of time wondering how to use AI to connect citizens with our government. However, one of the primary methods for citizens to give feedback is not with AI, but with protests. For this article I decided to search for protests on IOL and to discuss how AI can be used to make positive contributions to the three most recent ones.

Workers for Pikitup, Johannesburg’s waste collection service, are protesting and demanding permanent positions. While many people are fearful of AI taking people’s jobs, and, while that is a legitimate concern in some areas, AI and robotics are still a long way from being able to perform city-wide waste removal. Indeed, AI could be useful in helping both Pikitup and their employees. AI tools can optimise truck routes, reduce fuel consumption, and minimise idle time by analysing real-time traffic data. Furthermore, AI can help to sort waste, reducing the amount that ends up in landfill and increasing the amount that gets recycled. This AI support can lead to more reliable worker roles, as employees would handle waste collection, oversee sorting, and manage delivery. In order to perform these new tasks workers would need to be able to operate digital logistics tools (such as mapping and scanning technology) and to be able to check the performance of the sorting. By investing in their employee’s development, expanding the scope of their operation, and saving money on operations, Pikitup would be in a better position and have more reasons to offer permanent contracts.

There are protests in Gomora over the removal of illegal electricity connections amidst other service delivery failures. Electricity is a hot (or perhaps cold) topic across the entire country. AI can be used in several ways to help deliver cheaper, greener, and more reliable electricity. In South Africa, this is mostly done not by helping to effectively generate electricity, but in helping to effectively distribute it. For example, the first virtual power plant will be up and running by the end of next year.

Similar to protests regarding the supply of electricity, there are protests over the supply of water. AI can help by making water purification and delivery processes more efficient and by helping to predict natural changes like droughts or floods. In the South African context, detecting common water leaks or flooding drains can help prevent water wastage and, given recent E.coli scares, AI can help detect water pathogens.

While there are valid concerns about the impact of AI on jobs, its potential to enhance service delivery in South Africa is significant. By integrating AI into waste management, electricity distribution, and water supply systems, we can address some of the key issues that have led to recent protests. However, it is crucial to ensure that the implementation of AI solutions is done in a way that supports and complements all members of society and takes the environmental impacts seriously, thereby creating a more sustainable and inclusive approach to digital transformation that will help make South Africa more prosperous for all.


Published On: May 24, 2024Categories: Data Science & Public Policy, News
Please Share