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Machine ethics and African identities: Perspectives of artificial intelligence in Africa

Kohnert, Dirk (2022): Machine ethics and African identities: Perspectives of artificial intelligence in Africa.

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Abstract

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been embraced enthusiastically by Africans as a new resource for African development. AI could improve well-being by enabling innovation in business, education, health, ecology, urban planning, industry, etc. However, the high expectations could be little more than pious wishes. There are still too many open questions regarding the transfer required, and the selection of appropriate technology and its mastery. Given that the 'technology transfer' concept of modernization theories of the 1960s utterly failed because it had not been adapted to local needs, some scholars have called for an endogenous concept of African AI. However, this caused a lot of controversies. Africa became a battlefield of 'digital empires' of global powers due to its virtually non-existent digital infrastructure. Still, African solutions to African problems would be needed. Additionally, the dominant narratives and default settings of AI-related technologies have been denounced as male, gendered, white, heteronormative, powerful, and western. The previous focus on the formal sector is also questionable. Innovators from the informal sector and civil society, embedded in the local sociocultural environment but closely linked to transnational social spaces, often outperform government development efforts. UNESCO also warned that the effective use of AI in Africa requires the appropriate skills, legal framework and infrastructure. As in the past, calls by African politicians for a pooling of resources, a pan-African strategy, were probably in vain. AI may develop fastest in the already established African technology hubs of South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. But promising AI-focused activities have also been identified in Ethiopia and Uganda. Gender equality, cultural and linguistic diversity, and changes in labour markets would also be required for AI to enhance rather than undermine socioeconomic inclusion. In addition, ethical questions related to a specific African identity have been raised. The extent to which African ideas of humanity and humanitarianism should be taken into account when developing an African AI remains an open question. In short, calling for the rapid deployment of AI in Africa could be a double-edged sword.

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