Authors : Hannah Miller, Richard Stirling and Isaac Rutenberg
Organisation affiliée: Oxford Insights, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
Type of publication: Readiness Index
Date of publication: May 2019
Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are forecast to add US$15 trillion to the global economy by 2030. According to the findings of our Index and as might be expected, the governments of countries in the Global North are better placed to take advantage of these gains than those in the Global South. There is a risk, therefore, that countries in the Global South could be left behind by the so-called fourth industrial revolution. Not only will they not reap the potential benefits of AI, but there is also the danger that unequal implementation widens global inequalities.
The Government AI Readiness Index seeks to answer the question: how well placed are national governments to take advantage of the benefits of AI in their operations and delivery of public services? It scores the governments of 194 countries and territories according to their preparedness to use AI in the delivery of public services.
As might be expected, the upper rankings of this year’s Government AI Readiness Index are dominated by countries with strong economies, good governance, and innovative private sectors. There are no Latin American or African countries in the top 20.
Considering the disparities highlighted in this report, policymakers should act to ensure that global inequalities are not further entrenched or exacerbated by AI. Emerging technologies offer a unique opportunity to improve the governments of the future, and citizens’ experience of government. As we enter the age of automation, governments must ensure that they are ready to capitalise on the potential power of AI.
There is a risk, therefore, that countries in the Global South could be left behind by the so-called fourth industrial revolution
Any action by governments, however, should be undertaken with great caution. If it is implemented without due care for ethics and safety, AI in public services could be at best ineffective, and at worst, very dangerous. The age of AI is coming, and our intended contribution, through the Index, is to encourage all governments–whether in the Global North or South–to be as prepared as possible to help their citizens take advantage of the benefits of automation, while protecting them from its associated risks.
Regional Analysis: Africa
The 2019 Government AI Readiness Index paints a familiar picture for the African continent in global indices of this nature. There are no African countries in the top 50 positions, and only 12 African countries (out of 54 in the list) are in the top 100.
One of the biggest challenges facing the characterisation of AI activities and readiness in Africa is a lack of systematic study on the topic. As a result, there is a relative lack of data, and much of the information about AI in Africa is anecdotal. Nevertheless, what evidence we do have points to a trend toward greater interest and activity around AI in the region.
There have been a number of developments over the past year that point to a growing AI scene across the region. Local AI labs and research centres are appearing throughout Africa, such as the announcement in June 2018 that Google is to open their first African AI research hub in Accra, Ghana. The continued rapid proliferation of tech hubs in Africa is now a widely researched phenomenon. The potential for AI research and development which is contextually specific for Africa is vastly improved by this association with tech hubs.
Another aspect of the African tech community to watch closely is the role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and individual developers, and how they embrace AI. It remains to be seen whether AI tools are taken up by these groups and incorporated into, for example, startup companies, locally developed open source tools, and educational uses. Encouragingly, there are already numerous examples to show that AI is being applied to local problems. From smart farming in Nigeria to the tracking of illegal fishing in West Africa by AI-powered drones, the potential for AI to aid localised technology solutions is emerging.
As might be expected, the upper rankings of this year’s Government AI Readiness Index are dominated by countries with strong economies, good governance, and innovative private sectors
One of the topics central to national AI strategies is the impact that it, along with other emerging technologies, will have on jobs. The nature of the effects of AI on the job market is still highly speculative, but many predictions agree that jobs such as truck drivers, customer service representatives, financial analysts, and lawyers are at risk of being either replaced or dramatically altered by widespread automation.
The negative impacts of AI on employment will likely be substantially lower in Africa than it will in other regions, even if the adoption of AI is as widespread on the continent as in the rest of the world: Firstly, the largest industries in Africa still rely on high numbers of low-paid workers. It is simply not economically practical to replace or augment a low paid workforce until the cost of robotic labour is dramatically reduced from current levels. Secondly, the informal sector is substantially more important in Africa, and the impacts of AI on this sector will be minimal.
As AI and related technologies improve, many of these challenges will eventually be addressed. By the time that this happens, the African continent will be able to learn from the mistakes and successes of pioneer countries.
The outlook for AI in Africa is positive in that there is growing interest in the topic from formal research centres and informal developer communities. Governments across Africa will need to develop coherent and strong policies around AI if they are to capitalise on these recent developments, and ensure their citizens benefit from the advantages of AI whilst being protected from its potentially harmful impacts.
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