Dr Makhamisa Cletus Senekane is a Senior Researcher in the Institute for Intelligent Systems at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). He obtained his Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics from the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Masters in Electrical Engineering from the University of Cape Town, and PhD in Quantum Physics from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Prior to joining UJ, he was a lecturer in the Department of Physics and Electronics at NUL, senior lecturer in the Faculty of Information and Communication Technology at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, Lesotho, and lecturer in the Faculty of Computing at Botho University (Maseru Campus).

Dr Senekane’s research interests are mainly in data science, with a particular focus on data privacy and artificial intelligence (AI).

‘New gold’
He says: ‘Data is considered by some to be the “new gold”, as a way of underlining the significance of data in our current dispensation. It is apparent that data is used to derive insights that assist in crucial decision making in various spheres of life. However, as data is becoming more and more available for various applications, there is a risk that the data being shared might be sensitive: the privacy of such data must be protected at all times. My research, which is referred to as privacy-preserving AI, explores the ways of building privacy-preserving AI systems that make use of sensitive data.’

He continues: ‘Furthermore, my research explores ways of building robust AI systems that are trained by using adversarial examples. The idea here (it is referred to as adversarial AI) is to build AI systems that are resilient to minor perturbations in input training data. Finally, I am very much interested in how AI technologies could be used to address societal problems, especially for societies in the so-called Global South.’

‘Sexiest job’
Dr Senekane’s enthusiasm for and belief in his chosen subject field is clear. He says that working in data science has been branded ‘the sexiest job of the 21st Century’.

He also voices his thoughts about the significance of data science in our day-to-day lives: ‘I strongly believe that data literacy should be taken seriously and introduced to kids as early as possible. Without strong data literacy, societies could be left behind both socially and economically. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the data science practitioners to popularise data science as much as possible – until policy makers recognise the significance of incorporating data literacy in school curricula.’

Dr Senekane makes an important point about sustainability: ‘We should also note that proper collection and use of data can assist in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).’