We are living through a pandemic that has negatively impacted the global economy. In a short space of time, COVID-19 has altered the global operating models and society is having to adjust in order to survive.
The world is changing at an unprecedented pace. The internet has fueled developments in technology that have completely changed the way the world operates. Throughout this development, the African continent has always lagged. However, the continent has been able to leapfrog legacy technologies and has become the leader in mobile money transfers. We are now in the era of Artificial Intelligence, and this poses a regulatory and geopolitical challenge globally. AI is no longer a mere futuristic concept; it is here right now and is the primary driver of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Households, public spaces and businesses are all witnessing the effects of AI. Projections are that technology will resolve some of society’s most complicated issues and even replace human requirements in certain situations, as new social patterns between humans and the machine in the connected era unfolds. Already, machines not only do things that were previously reserved for humans but perform these tasks even better than humans.
Currently, the AI landscape is uneven with high concentrations of intellectual property and companies in the developed parts of societies and the world. This presents a regulatory challenge and risk to humanity because AI companies operate globally. As technology advances at exponential pace policymakers and laws are struggling to keep up. Countries around the world are creating AI strategies to ensure that they are able to deal with the pace of technology.
The past few weeks have shown how AI is at risk of being biased and manipulated by those who built it. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently had to pull down an AI training data set because it included racist, misogynistic and vulgar images and labels. If this wasn’t made aware to the computer scientists training the data set, there would’ve been prejudice in the systems there were building. This is just one example of how AI has the potential to be biased if data sets are not checked.
Another instance where the bias of automated systems was called into question was in the wake of widespread protests in the US against police brutality. A number of police departments in the US made use of facial recognition technology. Facial recognition has come under fire for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms. In the past few weeks, companies such as Microsoft, Amazon & IBM have announced that they would no longer be selling their facial recognition technologies to USA police. This week, Amazon, Google and Microsoft were sued over photos in facial recognition database. The tech giants were accused of using people’s pictures obtained without permission to train their technologies.
Google Vision Cloud also identified a handheld thermometer as a firearm when held by a black person, and an electronic instrument when held by an Asian person. This is just one example of how algorithmic bias plays out in real life. Clearview AI is currently being probed in the United Kingdom and Australia for infringing on human rights and stealing personal data. According to the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), “the investigation highlights the importance of enforcement cooperation in protecting the personal information of Australian and UK citizens in a globalized data environment.” This is a demonstration of how AI has the potential to impact the global human rights environment.
According to the World Economic Forum, the adoption of facial recognition has increased dramatically over the past few years, fueled by the rapid improvement in this technology. While accuracy scores now exceed 95%, serious concerns remain about its potential use for mass surveillance and susceptibility to unfair bias. Public and private organizations worldwide are grappling with this challenge and exploring various policy responses.
These inherent personal and environmental biases need discussion and options like open image diversity databases need to be considered. We need to build our own AI ontology and vocabulary that will take into consideration SA constitution, legacy, history, culture, diversity and languages. It is for this reason that AI is at the top of stakeholder’s policy agendas and governmental institutions globally. On August 5, we are going to host the virtual AI Dialogue to address such issues and promote a responsible AI environment in South Africa.
The AI Dialogue is a multi-stakeholder event that aims to bring together South Africans in the AI ecosystem to try and find common ground in using AI as a driver for economic growth, social development and safety. This dialogue will involve policymakers, the technology industry, organized labour, startups and SMMEs, businesses, academia and civil society.
The enormity of the AI technology revolution has a widespread influence on society, politics, science, economics and the very existence of humans. Those who control and own the most powerful AI systems in the future will increasingly have a great deal of control over the rest. This kind of power will undoubtedly evoke concerns on the part of individuals, enterprises and governments worldwide to advocate for AI responsible use for good.
I must acknowledge that other private sector companies such as Accenture have recognized that AI raises concerns on many fronts and with great power, comes great responsibility.
There is a need to be intentional in ensuring positive outcomes related to work and education in the world of AI. Its impact on the development of technology and society as a whole requires a collaborative effort between all stakeholders. The promotion of “AI for Good” is pivotal to the dialogue on leveraging the competitive edge of AI to rebuild our economy. Digital trust will drive AI adoption and diffusion.
We must keep in mind the need to safeguard the rights and well-being of all South Africans. We need to come together to start a dialogue at the level of our understanding, interpretation and commitment to the ethical guidelines.