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Microsoft envisions AI empowering Africa's progress, highlighting strategies for governance and partnerships to ensure equitable advancement. (Image source: Adobe Stock)

Microsoft, a global technology company, has predicted a faster and more profound progress in nearly every field of human endeavour, following the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology that is increasingly in the hands of African innovators 

The software giant, however, said for Africa to meet the opportunity and truly democratise AI, much work must be done around accelerating access to internet connectivity and growing digital literacy, which has been the central focus of Microsoft’s investments in the continent over the past 30 years.

Government Affairs director, Microsoft Africa, Akua Gyekye, said this during the second session of the virtual Africa AI Journalist Academy, organised by Microsoft recently.

In his presentation, Gyekye highlighted five governance strategies that could help accelerate the AI opportunity in Africa, to include: Building upon new government-led AI safety frameworks; Safety brakes for AI systems that control critical infrastructure; Developing broader legal and regulatory framework for AI; Ensure academic and public access to AI; and Pursue new public-private partnerships to use AI as an effective tool to address the inevitable societal challenges that come with new technology.

On the first strategy about implementing and building upon new government-led AI safety frameworks, Gyekye said, “When it comes to using AI safely, one of the most effective ways to accelerate progress is to build on existing governmental frameworks. Several African countries have already begun to formulate their own legal and policy frameworks and are helping to lead discussions around AI policy and strategy development on a regional, continental, and global scale, offering valuable insights for other countries looking to do the same.”

African Union's comprehensive AI strategy

According to him, the African Union (AU) continues to convene experts from across the continent and this year published a policy draft containing a comprehensive continental strategy for AI regulations for African countries.

On the strategy about safety brakes for AI systems that control critical infrastructure, Gyekye explained that while most potential AI scenarios would not pose significant risks, it’s going to be increasingly important to identify those high-risk situations that would require ‘safety brakes’. This, he stated, is particularly relevant when it comes to systems that manage or control critical infrastructure such as electricity grids, water systems, traffic systems or emergency responses.

He added that the brakes will ensure systems can be quickly controlled or stopped by humans if necessary.

On the strategy to develop a broader legal and regulatory framework based on the technology architecture for AI, Gyekye said, “To address AI’s legal and regulatory challenges, a framework mirroring AI’s technology architecture is needed, focusing on the three layers of the tech stack, with different obligations for the level of applications and the layers beneath, which are the AI foundational models and the infrastructure. The law will also need to place various regulatory responsibilities upon different actors based upon their role in managing the different aspects of the AI technology. Laws should apply existing protections to AI applications, ensuring safety and rights without necessitating new regulations, as current laws can often be adapted.”

He also emphasised the need to promote transparency and ensure academic and public access to AI.

According to him, a key aspect of AI policy that will require serious discussion in the coming months and years is the balance and tension between security and transparency.

He said transparency reports could play an important role in driving corporate accountability and empowering the public to understand AI systems, including where and how they are being used.

Speaking about the strategy to pursue new public-private partnerships to use AI as an effective tool to address the inevitable societal challenges that come with new technology, Gyekye said AI remained a powerful tool with immense potential for good.

“Like with other technologies, however, there are some who will try use it as a weapon. Fortunately, the technology can also be harnessed to fight against the abuse of AI and to address societal challenges. Public and private partnerships between governments, companies and NGOs will be needed to drive progress in this and other key areas, from skills development to sustainability efforts,” Gyekye further said.

President, Microsoft Africa, Lillian Barnard, had also highlighted the benefits of AI. According to her, “Embracing the transformative power of artificial intelligence (AI) is central to our vision for Africa’s future. AI will revolutionise the way we do business across the African continent. This revolution transcends mere technological advancement; it marks a strategic turning point wherein AI will be leveraged as a catalyst for sustainable growth and chart a course towards a future brimming with innovation and boundless opportunity for Africa.”

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