Programme / Thematic Sessions II. c. Ethics of Artificial Intelligence - Global Considerations and Potential for Africa

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Day 2

Thursday / 21 NOV

17:00 - 18:30

Thematic session:
Thematic Sessions II. c. Ethics of Artificial Intelligence - Global Considerations and Potential for Africa
Organised by:  UNESCO
Venue: Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Library Conference Hall

The session started with a short UNESCO video on the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI). Biological anthropologist Lucilla Spini, the first speaker, pointed out the fact that most private sector initiatives that transfer technology to Africa do not consider ethics – and this has led to continent-wide cybersecurity problems. Cultural aspects are also brought in with the import of technology, but African cultural values need to be taken into account when defining a framework for AI on the continent. Bunmi Banjo, an influential private sector advisor from Nigeria, pointed out that AI-related African markets are driven by the private sector. Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are at the forefront of such developments, but the limited number of African researchers and the underrepresentation of African people and data, as well as the lack of full broadband coverage, are causing concern. There are regulatory and structural lacunae because African governments do not act quickly enough in incorporating advances in technology. Dorothy Gordon, a development economist, drew the audience’s attention to the fact that none of the big companies controlling the technological space are African; they are Chinese or American. The most important concern for Africa is to avoid creating new dependencies as a result of technology. Technology is moving so fast that we might not have time to bring all stakeholders to the table. Although there are no global norms, the universal declaration of human rights should be the bedrock of any future document on the ethics of AI. Stephanie Okeyo, founder of the scientific website Under the Microscope, talked about the youth perspective. African youth want quality education and jobs, whether formal or informal, and a comfortable and diverse social life. For Stephanie, AI is a tool for growth that might contribute to reducing inequalities. However, she is worried that data protection in Africa is not well regulated, and this might lead to data misuse by non-state players. Jana el-Baba from the Cairo Office of UNESCO highlighted that UNESCO addresses the issue of ethical AI through an inclusive, global approach. There are ongoing efforts to elaborate a roadmap and create a normative instrument on the ethics of AI. She also pointed out that regional frameworks are as important as global ones since countries with different normative backgrounds might identify themselves better with regional approaches.


Most questions from the audience addressed the issue of conflicts of interest. Who will define global AI-related norms? How can we get them implemented? Technologically advanced societies are no better equipped to face AI’s side effects than any African country.  We, as a global society, need to define our own interests.


Rapporteur: Zsuzsanna Biedermann, Research Fellow, Institution of World Economics