Research Report: Work in progress on Computer Vision

Research ICT Africa Research Report

Computer vision is at first glance simply technology with general applications so that the political implications are not immediately apparent, unlike technologies such as bio-identity in which purpose is fused with the technology. The political valence of computer vision depends on the particular purposes for which computer vision is deployed. Although computer vision has in common with other AI technologies issues in the creation, representatively and access to datasets, not least the conditions of labour required inputs to AI systems, it has its own concerns. One area where computer vision has significant implications is for practices of surveillance. Enabling continuous visual surveillance at a scale hitherto unimaginable, computer vision (CV) is reshaping the surveillance landscape in Africa. Globally computer vision has been a topic of increasing interest and study due to its wide use in facial recognition systems, surveillance networks, virtual reality, and other similar fields. The full implications of widespread, interconnected, autonomous surveillance is not yet well understood, but they implicate human rights, particularly the rights to privacy and autonomy.

Artificial Intelligence technology has its origins in efforts to mimic human intelligence through the hardware and software of computer systems. While this goal remains elusive some AI technologies seek to emulate human abilities. Computer vision is one of several multi-purpose technologies developed under the broader category of AI. Similar multi-purpose technologies include natural language processing and decisions intelligence. As a multipurpose technology computer vision can be deployed for a number of different uses including analysing satellite or drone footage, facial recognition, gait recognition, number plate recognition and automated visual surveillance. Many African countries are increasingly introducing advanced AI surveillance tools and technologies to monitor, track and surveil their citizens. , and cities are tapping into AI technology to monitor traffic and fight crime. Yet these technologies are deployed to accomplish a range of policy objectives— many are lawful, whereas some have an unclear mandate and hidden from public scrutiny.

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Suggested citation

Mudongo, O. (2021). Work in progress in Computer Vision and AI Surveillance in Africa (AI4D) [Draft Research Report]. Research ICT Africa.