In an interview, an expert in AI cautions about the potential for “digital colonization” in Africa.
Mr. Ndiaye, a member of the new UN advisory committee on machine learning, shared his insights on the future landscape. Drawing from his experience in advancing Senegal’s digital development in higher education and serving as an expert for the African Union’s Pan-African Strategy on AI, as well as contributing to the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI), Mr. Ndiaye discussed the current landscape and its potential.
How can artificial intelligence assist Africa?
Seydina Moussa Ndiaye: A growing number of African nations are implementing specialized plans for artificial intelligence. However, there is a forthcoming pan-African strategy with a comprehensive approach to AI advancement.
An increasing number of young entrepreneurs are showing interest in launching startups and have a strong desire to gain knowledge in the field of AI. This curiosity can be further fueled with assistance from the international community.
In certain regions, there are physical barriers, but AI has the potential to address various issues, particularly in the field of agriculture. In the healthcare industry, AI could effectively tackle many problems, such as a shortage of staff.
Another crucial aspect is the cultivation of cultural identity. Africa has often been perceived as lacking a strong cultural presence on a global scale. However, through the advancement of AI, we have the opportunity to showcase and elevate African cultural identities for greater recognition and appreciation.
Can AI pose a threat to Africa?
My greatest concern is colonization. It is possible that powerful multinational companies in the field of AI could dominate the continent, limiting the opportunity for the development of local solutions.
A majority of the data produced in Africa is controlled by international companies, whose systems are established outside of the continent. This means that many African experts in AI also work outside of Africa, resulting in a depletion of talent within the continent.
Another significant factor to take into account is within the framework of the fourth industrial revolution. The potential of AI in conjunction with advancements in biotechnology or technology could be harnessed, with Africa potentially serving as the testing ground for these innovative solutions.
Without proper supervision, we could potentially conduct human testing using chips or other biotechnology enhancements that we do not fully understand. There are certain regulatory aspects that have not been taken into account and the current framework for implementing new ideas and regulations is not efficient.
In practical situations where we have no control, this scenario could occur without anyone’s awareness. There is a potential risk of Africa being exploited as a testing ground for unproven methods, posing a significant danger to the continent.
Can the UN’s recently established AI advisory group serve as a platform for addressing these issues?
Seydina Moussa Ndiaye: Definitely. Our work has begun and it is very inclusive. The participants are well-versed in global matters and there are no forbidden topics.
It is crucial that Africa’s perspective is included in the group. Collaboration in global scientific efforts should extend beyond the dominant powers. This includes all countries at an international level and can benefit the least developed nations.
At present, there exists a significant divide, and failure to address it may result in amplified disparities.