Accepted Papers:

has pdf download The ethics of AI and Ubuntu  


Dorine van Norren (Leiden university ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Twente)

Paper Short Abstract:

Paper long abstract:

UNESCO recently published a report on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Its member states have commissioned a recommendation to be written on the ethics of AI, to be adopted in November 2021 during the UNESCO General Conference. The first working group of experts to draft a text will take place in the Netherlands, in August 2020, in the Rathenau institute, under chairmanship of Peter Paul Verbeek, who also chaired the drafting of the UNESCO report on AI and ethics, and its committee on ethics of science COMEST.

Africa has had little part so far in designing the new algorithms for AI. The companies and researchers involved are mainly in the West or China and ethical guidelines have been issued mainly in North America, Canada, the EU, Council of Europe and OECD. We have already seen that AI leads to biases, as machine learning is based on collecting examples of the past. It is often better suited for men than women and also may have biases against people of color and thus invisibly perpetuates discrimination. Recently there is more attention for these problems, amongst others within UNESCO. This issues however runs much deeper when seen from a post-colonial perspective where decolonization of the mindset is still in its infancy when it comes to debates of development, sustainability and human rights.

The question is whether different value systems would also lead to different choices in programming and application of AI. Ubuntu (I am a person through other persons) is one such ethic in Africa, that starts from collective morals rather than individual ethics. What are the implications for AI when seen from a collective ontology? When confronted with issues of privacy, Ubuntu emphasizes transparency to group members, rather than individual privacy. When confronted with economic choices, Ubuntu favors sharing above competition. In democratic terms it promotes consensus decision making over representative democracy. What are the implications for designing a worldwide guideline on ethics of AI? And are African philosophers involved in this discussion, or simply AI experts from Africa?

Certain applications of AI may be more controversial in Africa than in other parts of the world, for example in care for the elderly, that deserve the utmost respect and attention, but at the same time AI may be helpful, as care from the home and community is encouraged from an Ubuntu perspective.

panel F38
Artificial intelligence and smart manufacturing in Africa [initiated by RWTH Aachen University, Machine Intelligence Institute of Africa, SA and the N. Mandela Institute of Technology, Tanzania]