Artifical Intelligence in Ethiopia? Yes. Really.

By Matti Pohjonen|June 7, 2019|AI, Digital cultures, Latest news, Research|

When I boldly announce to people that I am starting new research on artificial intelligence (AI) in Ethiopia, a common response to this has been:

“Ethiopia?  AI? But why there?”

My response to this has usually been: “Oh, exactly because this question gets asked!”

Indeed, breakthrough advancement in AI technology is predicted to transform every aspect of how people live, work and communicate globally.  These debates about what the digital future will look like commonly oscillates between a more utopian and dystopian vision of what our shared global digital futures looks like. The utopian approaches have generally focused more on the benefits of AI in fostering innovation, economic growth and improvements in health and cognition. The dystopian approaches, in turn, have cautioned about the dangers of autonomous weapons, economic disruptions caused by automation, or existential threats to humanity posed by the prospect of machinic superintelligence and robots run amok.

Yet despite this growing public clamour raised by the many imagined perils and promises of AI, these debates still remain largely framed through the prerogatives of Westerns countries or emerging global powers such as China. The powerful utopian and/or dystopian visions thus risk neglecting the multitudinous perspectives emerging from smaller countries in the Global South who are also anxiously exploring what these future disruptions will entail.

One of the long-term aims of the Centre for Global Media and Communication, at SOAS, is to foreground these less talked-about debates on AI and digital futures by bringing new perspectives to them – and by linking debates on technological disruption to the epistemological disruption of the decolonising knowledge movement.  Our long-term goal is thus to set up a Research Hub on Global Digital Futures to co-create new ethical and normative visions of what our shared global digital future should look like in order to critically address some of the fundamental challenges facing humanity.

Beginning this research by first visiting Icog Labs or the Ministry of Innovation and Technology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is a good start. And besides, who would not want to attend the pan-African robot football championships taking place every year.

Stay tuned for more updates here.

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