The ability to deploy computers or robots to execute tasks, often referred to as artificial intelligence, was the centre of this year’s Africa Law Tech Festival.
The conference is the brainchild of Lawyers Hub Kenya, a legal tech organisation that works on digital policy and justice innovation, and previous editions have addressed emerging issues in the law and tech space.
This year's conference took a cross-continental approach, focusing on Africa and Europe, with the aim of equipping lawyers and policy makers with the knowledge needed to build, utilise and regulate innovative solutions like AI.
Professor Luis Franceschi, Senior Director, Governance & Peace at the Commonwealth Secretariat, who delivered the keynote speech, agrees that AI-powered technologies have the potential to solve some of the most pressing challenges that impact Africa, and drive growth and development in core sectors including the legal industry.
Francheschi, also the founding Dean of Strathmore University Law School, however, stated that with this evolution, it is imperative that African regulators are equipped and prepared to tackle the challenges ahead.
"The data explosion is at the heart of AI. Immense amounts of data from increasingly pervasive sensors, mobile devices and social networks are unlocking new opportunities. By 2025, global data traffic will grow to 163 zettabytes (a trillion gigabytes),” he said. “This exponential growth is what is constantly feeding AI improvements. The integration of AI and big data can mean many benefits for economic, scientific and social progress."
He believes that these changes raise risks for individuals and for the whole of society, such as pervasive surveillance and influence on citizens' behaviour.
"It is critical that the development and deployment of AI tools takes place in a socio-technical framework – inclusive of technologies, human skills, organisational structures, and norms – where individual interests and the social good are preserved and enhanced," he emphasised.
Franceschi suggested that to provide regulatory support for the creation of such a framework, ethical and legal principles are needed, together with sectoral regulations.
He further explained that the ethical principles should include autonomy, prevention of harm, fairness, and explicability; adding that the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, in the AU treaties, should be respected.
In 2019 the African Union called for a unified stance on AI to manage the benefits of the technology for Africans, and member states were told to establish a working group for that purpose. To date, not much has been heard of the group.
Franceschi noted that several nations are grappling with how to draft AI law because it is an advanced and dynamic technology and may seem a hard nut to crack for regulators. He advised African countries to embrace European Union frameworks and policies for AI.
"The General Data Protection Regulation, the EU’s data protection regulation, is the bloc’s most famous tech export, and it has been copied everywhere from California to India. Another welcomed regulation from Europe is the AI Act that aims to curb these harms by regulating the whole sector," he said.
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