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A case for right laws for tech in Africa

CYBER

Emerging technologies are transforming every aspect of our lives and as a result, influencing our laws. The speed at which these technologies are shaping our lives is not matched with the pace of policy and regulatory change.

Yet, we must enable innovations to take place, allow fair markets to flourish and protect consumers from intrusive technology providers and those that seek to harm citizens.

A research on laws and emerging technologies by Esther Salmerón-Manzano highlights how new technologies will have a huge impact on society in the coming years and bring new legal challenges worldwide.

Experience shows that technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are already having a significant impact on our economic, social, and political lives. Covid-19 fast tracked most of these technologies.

In spite of the impact, many developing economies’ policy, regulatory frameworks and laws on technology still lag developed nations.

According to a recent article titled, ‘Emerging technologies (AI) challenges and principles of regulation by ITU’, Al-powered products and services have the potential to lead to breakthrough medications, accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, and also allow people to age with dignity.

And the financial benefits alone might be huge. The article estimates that by 2030, AI might contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy, more than the current output of China and India combined. And that increased production will generate $6.6 trillion and consumption-side effects $9.1 trillion.

The article further notes that Africa, Oceania, and other Asian regions are expected to see a cumulative effect of $1.2 trillion. This is in comparison to the 2019 aggregation of the GDP of all sub-Saharan African countries at $1.8 trillion. This is as a result of the successful implementation of AI with big data, which has opened up a world of possibilities.

In spite of the benefits that AI presents, there are myriad challenges that we must overcome. Key among the challenges is how to craft an enabling legal framework in an environment where there are inadequate technical capacity and skills. And also, the computational speed required to effectively leverage AI productivity improvement.

Peripheral issues include ethical challenges over decisions made by AI and who takes responsibility.

Even before the legal frameworks are in place, AI use is intensifying in Africa especially in loans approval and in determining the risk of getting prostate cancer in the USA.

But the question which is not being asked is: what is the recourse if the algorithm behind AI has biases? On several occasions, the underlying prejudice has been detected in data used to construct AI algorithms, which often leads to discrimination and other social effects.

Also, in IoT technology, there have been some serious concerns. Some of the legal challenges surrounding IoT, particularly devices such as smartphones that are being used to send huge volumes of data to the cloud, include privacy and cybersecurity concerns.

Although there are problems in balancing the opportunities and challenges presented by emerging technologies, Mike Turley, William D. Eggers, and Pankaj Kishnani from Deloitte suggest in their report, ‘The future of regulation: Principles for regulating emerging technologies’ that it is critical to adopt the following five principles —adaptive regulation, regulatory sandboxes, outcome-based regulation, risk-weighted regulation, and collaborative regulation.

Adoption of these suggested principles, especially in developing countries, could see them leapfrog as it happened with mobile money in Kenya. Africa particularly has a more compelling case to create an enabling environment for these emerging technologies to take root in the continent.