In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin remarked that “whoever becomes the leader in Artificial Intelligence will become the ruler of the world.” Earlier that year, business magnate Elon Musk and other leaders in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) petitioned the United Nations to ban dangerous autonomous weapons such as killer robots which are some of the end products of AI. In recent years, developments in the field of artificial intelligence have been increasing exponentially. While advancements in technology are viewed with a promise of future economic possibilities, numerous dangers lurk in it, especially in the event of abuse at the hands of rogue individuals. This paper reflects on the concept of artificial intelligence, the benefits that come with its use, the risks that it portends, global efforts towards regulation and the need for Kenya to do adopt artificial intelligence laws.
Artificial intelligence (AI) largely refers to the ability of machines to perform tasks that would ordinarily require the use of human intelligence. Some of its common branches include robotics, artificial neural networks, machine learning, natural language processing and expert systems. Recent advancements in technology and computer science research have seen the application of AI broadening across different fields. In the business world, multinational corporations such as Google, Netflix, Amazon and Tesla are all using AI for various functionalities like the understanding of human speech, automating decision makings and enabling advanced web search. Other fields where the use of AI is growing include healthcare, defence, transport and finance. Clearly, the technology has so far been used in advancing some social good and improving capabilities in many fields.
It however poses some risks or dangers that ought to be addressed both at the international and domestic levels using sufficient regulations. Experts believe that AI has vast potential and capabilities that are still yet blurry to human imagination. The late Physicist Stephen Hawking once observed that the impact of AI could result in a state of cataclysm if the exponential development is not regulated strictly. While some of the immediate risks of AI such as job loss do not pose a dire threat to human civilization, the prospects of using it to make killer robots, ‘deep fakes’ and deadly autonomous weapons should make any reasonable person shudder. Despite the efforts by nations like the United States, Canada, China, the United Kingdom and bodies like the EU, the UN and the OECD in establishing foundational regulations on AI, more can still be done to guarantee the safety of both the current and future generations in the hands of such sophisticated technology.
Artificial Intelligence: Benefits, democratization and dangers
That AI is a beneficial tool for the advancement of humanity has never been in doubt. Many governments and business organisations are already leveraging AI in different ways and dimensions. The use of robotics technology exemplifies one of the beneficial impacts of AI. In many industries around the world, especially the dangerous ones, robots are being employed to perform risky tasks. In ocean exploration, for example, the use of marine robots is slowly replacing humans due to the unfriendly and costly nature of the environment. AI robots have also found use in numerous vehicle manufacturing companies. Likewise, developments are being made to use robots in activities like the defusion of bombs.
The beneficial effects of AI can also be traced in actions like the development of self-driving cars and the use of digital assistants. While this kind of automation still scares people in many corners, the use of AI in safely bringing autonomous vehicles to life cannot be dismissed easily. Digital assistants too present new ways through which organisations can interact with their customers using chatbots and other functionalities. The capacity of using AI in bringing new inventions, reducing human errors and increasing productivity is evident. For this reason, there exist high chances that the technology will keep bringing positive improvements in the various sectors of transport, health, space exploration and finance among many others.
Due to the many positive impacts presented by AI, its democratization is highly necessary. Democratization of AI refers to the process of increasing its accessibility to the wider cross-section of people in society especially those in business. At the moment, very few people have a good grasp of AI applications and the power that they portend. To this extent, certain steps ought to be taken by regulators in different countries to increase its democratization and enable safe use for maximum economic developments. Some of the steps that can be taken include increasing data reliability and accessibility and developing user-friendly interfaces that make humans interact with AI more intuitively.
As briefly highlighted in the preceding paragraphs, AI applications can pose grave threats to humanity if their use is uncontrolled and unregulated. Chief among the dangers is the fact that it can easily be utilized in the development of autonomous weapons. Unlike ordinary weapons that are controlled by humans, the precision and character of autonomous weapons are mind-boggling. Killer robots are an example of autonomous weapons that can be used by rogue individuals such as terrorists, dictators and warlords to perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes. It is essential to note that such robots and other AI-controlled weaponry like lethal missiles and bombs may completely disregard international humanitarian laws when used in armed conflicts. Only strict laws and policies can guarantee the safe use of AI and avert potential future calamities.
Existing Global Initiatives and Efforts towards AI Regulation
The regulatory space for AI has been rapidly expanding in different jurisdictions since the year 2016. While most of the policy initiatives are geared towards creating rules that can promote the development of the technology, some are also centred on reducing the prospects of its abuse. The launch of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence in 2020 culminated the numerous attempts that have been directed towards developing AI in accordance with human rights and democratic values. Earlier on in 2019, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had come up with important principles to regulate the development of AI. The principles include accountability, sustainable development, human-centred values, transparency, robustness, security and safety.
In 2016, the United Nations appointed a Group of Governmental Experts (CGE) to deliberate on the legality of lethal autonomous weapons systems during armed conflicts within the context of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. After the deliberations, the group established some guiding principles on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems. Additionally, the United Nations established the Centre for AI and Robotics in 2019 to set some global standards on the ethics of artificial intelligence.
At the domestic level, only a few countries have adopted strategies, policy papers and action plans on AI. Some of these countries include Canada, the United States of America, China and the United Kingdom as well as some nations in the European Union. In Canada, there exists the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy of 2017 which aims to chart the ethical use of AI. In China, the state council developed the “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan” to promote the development of AI and some ethical guidelines to guarantee the safe use of AI. The United States also has different policies like Guidance for Regulation of Artificial Intelligence Applications of 2019 which contain principles for the regulation of AI. Notably, none of these countries has well-defined legislation that set guiding standards on the safe and ethical use of AI.
The need for Safe AI regulations in African Countries like Kenya
The application of AI is rising across many African industries. Business leaders and governments in the continent are pushing for the incorporation of technology in operations to increase efficiency and promote high productivity. AI regulations are however scarce. Only a few countries like South Africa have made some steps towards policy development on the subject but nothing has been formalized yet. Kenya, like South Africa, is beginning to appreciate the sophistry and capabilities of AI. In 2018, the government of Kenya created the Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence Task Force to investigate and provide recommendations on mechanisms that can be used in harnessing the emerging technologies of AI and blockchain. Sadly, this is the only step ever taken by the country in AI regulation. While the initiative was commendable, more needs to be done to establish consistent and reliable policies that would guarantee both the promotion of safe AI use and the minimization of potential risks.
Kenya has historical instances of technological misuse that should serve as a lesson and crucial reminder of why it needs strict AI regulations. During the 2007 elections, for example, the misuse of online and short message service technology skewed the process and resulted in deadly post-election violence. Caution is, therefore, necessary for the face of more sophisticated technology like AI to mitigate its dangers within the country.
Artificial intelligence has proved to be a unique kind of technology as compared to the others. Its use around the world possesses not only immense benefits but also some grave dangers. If past instances of technological misuse around the world are anything to go by then all countries should move with speed to enact regulations aimed at mitigating the risks of AI. Bodies like the UN and the EU as well as countries like the US, UK and Canada are already coming up with initiatives towards this end. African countries like Kenya are far behind hence the need to step up. The rapid advancements in AI call for more proactivity among nations if safer AI use is to be achieved soon.
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