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Africa's calls to regulate AI grow louder

By OTIATO OPALI in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-03 09:55

The rapid development in artificial intelligence, or AI, has had the effect of disrupting and transforming socioeconomic activities across industries ranging from health, trade, education and even the mitigation of climate change.

However, as industries and governments across the globe are positioning themselves to tap into and exploit these possibilities, experts argue that African countries need to tackle governance issues and lack of institutional and infrastructural capacity to establish the building blocks that will allow them to benefit from artificial intelligence.

They added that Africa needs supportive policies and robust infrastructure to tap the limitless opportunities of artificial intelligence to quicken its development. Though it is important to regulate the use of AI in Africa to avert its risks, the experts said that the continent should not wait to have the regulations in place in order to embrace the technology.

Fayaz King, an expert in digital public infrastructure from Zimbabwe, said AI has the potential to contribute up to $1.2 trillion to the African economy by 2030, representing a 5.6 percent increase in the continent's GDP by 2030. That is why it is important for African governments to incentivize stakeholders across AI value chains with a focus on small-medium scale enterprises to foster innovation and equitable access to AI technologies.

Intensifying efforts

Alfred Ongere, an information technology expert and the founder of Artificial Intelligence Kenya, a nongovernmental organization, said the urgency to regulate AI in African countries is expected to intensify because it can potentially be used in disseminating misinformation, fake news, and disinformation. However, policymakers should prioritize improving the state of the AI ecosystem.

"In Kenya, the government proposed a bill last year seeking to create a professional body to oversee the activities of AI practitioners and impose license fees for those working in the sector," Ongere said.

"However, this bill could hold back a nascent sector by reducing the flow of private investment, and locking young people out of opportunities," he said.

Despite arguing against tempered regulation by African governments, Ongere said that it is still crucial to protect consumers from the risks posed by the unfettered application of AI on the continent. He urged African governments to develop an AI road map or policy paper that factors in the views of all stakeholders as a first step rather than imposing regulations that could potentially damage a promising sector.

"AI-focused solutions should address real-world challenges such as rural development, low literacy levels, and financial inclusion, among others. More importantly, efforts should be directed toward ensuring the commercial viability of these solutions," Ongere said.

King said that regulating AI in Africa should address ethical considerations such as data privacy, bias and transparency. As the use of AI continues to expand, it is likely that more countries will follow in introducing such regulations.

According to him, regulating AI in Africa could be seen from three perspectives. First from the point of a law enacted by a parliament, second in the form of strategies toward the adoption of AI, and finally on policies.

"The question of regulation, especially in the African context is that Africa is not mature to have full-blown regulation on AI because Africa lacks the level of technology advancement that exists in developed nations," King said.

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