As artificial intelligence (AI) transforms into the next general purpose technology it is likely to repeat structural inequalities, but with potentially much more serious consequences for African societies unless policymakers take pre-emptive action.
As a latecomer to the AI race, Africa already stands at a great disadvantage in many respects. Research ICT Africa’s (RIA’s) research on ‘older’ technologies such as mobile phones and the Internet has demonstrated that the weak infrastructural, institutional, social and political structures in most African countries, together with demand side, human development challenges, are persistent obstacles to realising the benefits of digital inclusion for all. Simply layering advanced technologies over existing structural inequalities further exacerbates inequality.
For this reason it is becoming vitally important to learn lessons from the past, draw insights from developments in other world regions, and importantly, implement measures able to prevent known harms and mitigate the risks associated with AI. Moreover, as AI increasingly becomes the central system for social and economic decision-making it is imperative to start incorporating ethical systems within a rights-preserving framework.
Funded by International Development Research Centre (IDRC ) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), RIA has launched the AI Policy Research Centre in Africa, which seeks to facilitate the development of a dynamic, people-centred AI ecosystem on the continent by promoting knowledge exchange on responsible AI.
In collaboration with partners in East, West and Southern Africa, the think tank will provide a single entry-point for AI research and policy capacity-building in anglophone Africa and a platform for collaborative research, evidence-gathering, networking and knowledge exchange on the implications of AI systems for African countries. The approach encompasses building a network of AI researchers and digital policymakers across anglophone Africa to develop AI capacity and a responsible AI framework.
The core principles of responsible AI include fairness, inclusiveness, transparency and accountability, privacy and security, safety, and sustainability. These all align with RIA’s mission to accelerate economic inclusion and social justice in Africa by undertaking rigorous research to inform digital policy and data governance.
For more information, visit the AI Research Policy Centre in Africa project page.