Africa must have a voice in upcoming global summit for AI regulation

2023-07-02 21:44:53
Africa must have a voice in upcoming global summit for AI regulation

With the first summit on global regulation over Artificial Intelligence (AI) due in the autumn, African voices should be represented in forming the new rules.

Over the past few months it has rapidly become impossible to visit a news site without seeing stories about AI. According to these stories AI is reaching a tipping point and is about to revolutionise and change the way we live our lives forever.

Africans may already see AI in many aspects of how businesses and NGOs currently work, from interacting with chatbots when booking flights, to assisting shipping forecasts or using ChatGPT in our studies.

But the next generation of AI programs is predicted to be existentially different – with impacts akin to “before and after the internet” or even “before and after the use of the internal combustion engine”.

There has already been a considerable number of articles on how Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to AI development, and fears that the region will be left behind. For example, earlier this year African Business published an excellent article focusing on ChatGPT, titled “ChatGPT and the future of African AI”.

It argued that with “limited training data matching African cultural and economic realities, the output of ChatGPT could be skewed toward reinforcing Western cultural and ideological hegemony.”

The fear of European, American and Asian dominance in AI in general and programs like ChatGPT in particular is well-founded and real. Just consider the distribution of AI firms.

In 2021, in the midst of Covid-19, it was estimated that the UK had 2,000 firms specialising in AI. That figure will have increased rapidly since. The US now reportedly boasts over 13,000 AI start-ups, while China has well over 2,000. The US and China also host the world’s leading medium and large AI companies.

Jump to our continent, where a 2022 report suggested that there are over 2,400 African AI firms – with Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya being the major hubs. The dominance of these hubs is no coincidence. These countries have published national AI or digital strategies, and in some cases even have national AI centres and training institutes.

That aside, these sorts of comparisons are not unusual and again, not a coincidence. Despite the best efforts of many African governments, due to a combination of financial constraints and risk perceptions, the region lags the rest of the world in research and development (R&D) volumes and foreign direct investment (FDI), as well as digital infrastructure. It is therefore no surprise that the scale of AI use and development is relatively small, even if fast growing and highly innovative where it does exist.

Read full article at African Business


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