Artificial intelligence is the talking point of the moment among many in the tech landscape but Entelect has been inspiring developers to explore this technology for the last six years.

This year is no different as the Entelect Challenge tasks developers with creating an AI bot that can play Battleships.

The pairing of AI with games is not anything new as any ardent gamer will tell you but with the growing popularity of AI we wanted to find what benefits a challenge based on gaming could have in the real world.

“As software engineers we’re always playing around with the latest tech but we never get to sink our teeth into something creative because big corporates want us to build this particular “thing”,” organiser of the Entelect Challenge Tomislav Ravić tells us.

The organiser explains that initially the aim of the challenge was to give developers something fun to do and get them using AI in the context of games.

Today the Entelect Challenge serves as a way for the firm to get involved with the local dev community and more importantly drive collaboration.

“The challenge ties into that concept of building the community,” says Ravić.

Nothing artificial about this intelligence

To compete in the Entelect Challenge developers will have to create an AI bot that will battle against other bots in a game of Battleships.

While on the surface this seems like a bunch of nerds playing video games, there is method to Entelect’s apparent madness.

AI encompasses a number of technologies including another one of our favourite buzzwords of the moment – machine learning. By combining these two technologies, software can be created that can comb through loan agreements to save lawyers time or you could create an algorithm that can compress video and save consumers in data costs and not degrade the quality.

Of course AI does present a threat to some humans as it would nullify their need to work. “The law industry is the greatest at risk because why would you need a human to do a job a machine could do faster,” says Ravić.

How we wish we could write “but humans need not fear” here but sadly we can’t.

There needs to be more widespread discussion about the effects AI could have on society and not the effect that sends Arnie back in time to save John but rather how we solve the problem of increasingly intelligent computers taking over the livelihood of humans.

We still need humans (for now)

But to make AI requires humans to create it and according to Ravić South Africa is lacking those skills. Not one to shy away from speaking his mind Ravić offers up his thoughts on how we could encourage more children to get inspired in developing.

“At school you can play sport and decide that this is what you’re good at and that this is something you want to pursue. I think that software development should be given the same chance so that at an early age you can see who has a natural talent for this sort of thing,” says the organiser.

“Our parents look at software and technology as a service not as part of our lives. I think going back to the education system and teaching children that there is logic, this is how things works and getting them involved with mechanics and technology at a much earlier age could lead to great technological advancements,” Ravić tells us.

If being the father or mother of the next great technological advancement sounds like something you’d like to hear regularly perhaps you should check out the Entelect Challenge. There is a R200 000 prize pool up for grabs and the official website does a lovely job of laying out everything you need to know to compete.

The first phase of the competition starts on 9th June but you’ll need to bot to compete so strap your thinking cap on, flex your fingers and get to coding.