Launching the Africa-Asia Policy Maker Network on Responsible AI

Artificial Intelligence in Cape Town
Executive Summary
  • In Cape Town, policymakers from Ghana, India, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda have met to launch the first Africa-Asia AI Policy Maker Network to work on the responsible use and development of artificial intelligence (AI).
  • The policymakers had participated in a four-month Peer Learning and Capacity Building Programme on Artificial Intelligence led by the Human Sciences Research Council.
  • Among other things, the programme has focused on the promotion of local AI innovation, AI ethics and how AI can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs).
  • The Network will serve as a forum for extended policy exchange on responsible AI, joint project development and continuous peer-learning on artificial intelligence.

From 29 March to 1 April 2022, an in-person event was welcoming AI policymakers from Africa and Asia to Cape Town, South Africa. Those invited included policymakers working on AI governance from Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Telangana State in India, who had all participated in a Peer Learning and Capacity Building Programme for Policy Makers on Artificial Intelligence (CBP Course) led by the South African Human Sciences Research Council, and held from September to December 2021.

The event formed part of “FAIR Forward – Artificial Intelligence for All” (FAIR Forward), a project being implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

The gathering sought to build on learnings about responsible AI developed during the CBP Course and establish a forward-looking Africa/Asia AI policymaker network. In addition, the event also connected with the launch of the African Observatory on Responsible AI, and provided a platform where policymakers and researchers could come together to consider key priorities for advancing responsible AI.

The event opened with a welcome reception and dinner hosted at the Bo-Kaap Cultural Hub. Guests were treated to traditional Cape Malay cuisine in a venue that pays hommage to Cape Town’s historical Muslim tradition. Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala (Vice-Chancellor, University of Johannesburg) delivered a keynote address where he outlined the recommendations of the report of the South African Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. His address was followed by a discussion with Dr. Alison Gillwald, Executive Director, Research ICT Africa, and Prof. Geci Karuri-Sebina, Tayarisha: African Centre of Excellence for Digital Governance, University of Witwatersrand. The speakers discussed the profound inequality of access, particularly in the Global South, to the core digital foundations that underlie AI and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and stressed how AI governance must advance from the full implementation of digital policies, education and access.

On the first full day of the event, policymakers participated in rotating group discussion sessions addressing key areas of responsible AI strategies that had been identified by the participants during the capacity building programme. These areas were Ethical Guidelines of AI, Data Sharing, Digital Skills and Literacy, and AI Procurement Guidelines. In each group, policymakers discussed what challenges they faced in their different country contexts in relation to these issues, as well as what capacity requirements might be needed to fully address challenges faced. An important consideration was the role of regional collaboration and cooperation in advancing sustainable policy solutions, such as through data-sharing agreements, or relaxing visa requirements for those with data and AI-related skills.

The policymakers also deliberated on how policy decisions in relation to AI impacted women and gender equality, and what kinds of tools were needed to ensure that women’s empowerment remained a top priority in AI governance. With strong female leadership amongst the policymakers from all the countries represented at the event, many innovative governance solutions were considered, from championing women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to considering the advancement of gender equality in designing standards for the public procurement of AI.

On the second day of the event, AI researchers from across the African continent joined the policymakers to co-design research and policy priorities for responsible AI, and consider how to optimise the relationship between researchers and policymakers in order to advance evidence-led policymaking. These discussions took place as part of the launch of the African Observatory on Responsible AI – a new networking project of Research ICT Africa and the AI4D programme of the International Research Development Centre of Canada and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. Conversations explored how AI can be used in the Global South to meaningfully advance the realisation of the SDGs, with much emphasis placed on access to data and AI infrastructure – such as cloud computing – for local data entrepreneurs.

Another important area of consideration was how AI can support the development of smart cities, and the policy requirements needed to ensure that such developments were inclusive and did not by means of disproportionate surveillance technologies infringe upon human rights such as the right to freedom of movement or association. Relatedly, participants also explored the implications of AI on democracy and political stability, raising key questions around how foreign technology monopolies could be regulated locally. Much of the discussion rested on the importance of educating communities on issues such as disinformation, and building digital literacy to be able to make informed decisions around consent.

Over the course of the event – which also included the launch of the Handbook on Implementing a Capacity Building Course on Responsible AI, the tool used for the capacity building course – commitments were made to supporting regional dialogues between the policymakers to continue sharing experiences and governance strategies.

The next few years are set to see exciting growth in the use and governance of AI in countries from Africa and Asia. The policymakers involved in the event play a vital role in ensuring that the technologies developed and rolled out are for the good and benefit of local people and communities.