BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

A lot has been said by the public about what is good and bad about Artificial Intelligence (AI). Now, the South African government has spoken out about AI during the AI National Government Summit held at the University of Johannesburg during the first week in April 2024. At the same time a discussion document has also been issued out for public comment. It’s not the first time that SA has followed this approach to deal with technological advancements that may have an impact on society. This is important as well as part and parcel of government responsibility to establish the rules of the game.

It’s interesting to note however that history tells us that this has not worked in the past.

A similar approach was followed withthe 4th industrial revolution.

Since the World Economic Forum declared that the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) was the next big thing there was a move towards preparing for the big moment.

On one hand 4IR was presented as an opportunity and a threat, a commission was setup followed by a discussion document and eventually a Centre for 4IR was established.

What has been common with these approaches has been that the response is always late and it often misses the core issues that require attention. The challenge with all these technologies has been that they often originate from the US with leading tech giants being based in that region.

The AI effort is similar to previous efforts to exploit opportunities presented by tech and address the harms. The response is a bit late and seems to be missing the core. It seems something different is required. Already there’s established companies in AI from the US.

To discuss at this point and solicit views from society and thereafter map the way forward may yield similar results that we’ve seen on previous attempts as seen with 4IR.

Often countries outside the creator countries of these technologies have limited choices, to create or to use what others have created. Of course in this case the government is also trying to regulate. The challenge with this approach is simply that it’s difficult to regulate companies outside of your jurisdiction, just watch how difficult it’s been to regulate social media companies. In addition to that, tech companies have no great respect for the Africa region.

As matters stand, it seems there’s only one option left to be a creator as hard as it is. At some point the goal has to focus on creating technology. A country can still use tools from other countries in the process of building its own infrastructure. Nvidia has recently unveiled AI infrastructure that can enable Sovereign AI to ensure that a country can control its data.

This means that there’s a need to support efforts to build local technology infrastructure. Such a technology can be developed in such a way that it adheres to local values instead of embedding it to a technology developed elsewhere. This is one way of addressing concerns that may arise instead of throwing a rule book, institutions and commissions at them.

It’s better to build then talk and create institutions around local products instead of discussing things beyond local control and influence.