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Africa’s push to regulate AI starts now

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In the Zanzibar archipelago of Tanzania, rural farmers are using an AI-assisted app called Nuru that works in their native language of Swahili to detect a devastating cassava disease before it spreads. In South Africa, computer scientists have built machine learning models to analyze the impact of racial segregation in housing. And in Nairobi, Kenya, AI classifies images from thousands of surveillance cameras perched on lampposts in the bustling city’s center. 

The projected benefit of AI adoption on Africa’s economy is tantalizing. Estimates suggest that four African countries alone—Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa—could rake in up to $136 billion worth of economic benefits by 2030 if businesses there begin using more AI tools.

Now, the African Union—made up of 55 member nations—is preparing an ambitious AI policy that envisions an Africa-centric path for the development and regulation of this emerging technology. But debates on when AI regulation is warranted and concerns about stifling innovation could pose a roadblock, while a lack of AI infrastructure could hold back the technology’s adoption.  

“We’re seeing a growth of AI in the continent;  it’s really important there be set rules in place to govern these technologies,” says Chinasa T. Okolo, a fellow in the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings, whose research focuses on AI governance and policy development in Africa.

Some African countries have already begun to formulate their own legal and policy frameworks for AI. Seven have developed national AI policies and strategies, which are currently at different stages of implementation. 

On February 29, the African Union Development Agency published a policy drat that lays out a blueprint of AI regulations for African nations.

 The heads of African governments are expected to eventually endorse the continental AI strategy, but not until February 2025, when they meet next at the AU’s annual summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Countries with no existing AI policies or regulations would then use this framework to develop their own national strategies, while those that already have will be encouraged to review and align their policies with the AU’s.

Source: MIT Technology Review