South Africa to establish AI expert advisory council to shape future regulations

South Africa is set to establish an AI Expert Advisory Council to address regulatory challenges amidst broader discussions on the ethical considerations and economic benefits of AI adoption.

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South Africa is about to create an AI Expert Advisory Council in an effort to address the regulatory issues surrounding the use of AI. This initiative was highlighted at a national AI summit organised by the Department of Communications,

The proposed Expert Advisory Council led by Vukosi Marivate, the associate professor of computer science and the ‘ABSA UP’ chair of data science at the University of Pretoria,  will coordinate in collaboration with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies the formulation of effective and ethical AI governance frameworks in order to guide the development of a national AI policy that would align with both national and continental objectives. Professor Marivate will be tasked with overseeing the selection process for specialists who will serve on the AI Expert Advisory Council. 

Vukosi Marivate is an expert in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), with a specialised focus on integrating these technologies with natural language processing (NLP). His work involves developing methods that use ML and AI to understand and process human language, a key component in advancing AI applications and technologies.

The summit also underscored the broader challenges and ethical considerations tied to AI adoption, including privacy concerns, data governance, and the societal impact of automation and AI technologies. Minister Gungubele’s address outlined the steps South Africa is taking to become a leader in AI technology. Gungubele emphasised the importance of AI in achieving the UN sustainable development goals and enhancing societal well-being. He also highlighted the economic benefits projected from AI adoption across Africa and added that there is a need for an inclusive approach to technology that benefits all segments of society.

The discussion document from the summit provides a blueprint for integrating AI across various sectors, focusing on ethical frameworks, societal benefits, and minimising risks associated with AI deployment. It discusses the need for international cooperation and a common understanding of AI to support policy-making and ensure AI’s safe and beneficial use. 

While several African countries like Benin, Egypt, Ghana, Mauritius, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tunisia have initiated national AI strategies, formal AI regulations are still not in place. This regulation gap underlines a significant need for frameworks that ensure AI deployment adheres to ethical standards, safeguards citizens’ rights, and fosters responsible AI usage.

About the AI landscape in South Africa

Recognising the key role of AI in this transformation, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa established the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR). The commission’s mandate is to forge a cohesive national response to the challenges and opportunities presented by the 4IR. In its report issued in January 2020, the PC4IR outlined a series of recommendations aimed at helping South Africa improve its AI landscape. Among other, the recommendations include the establishment of an AI Institute.

The Emerging Technologies in South Africa, a landscape analysis report of June 2022, identified 20 emerging technologies being promoted, developed, deployed or used in South Africa. Of these, the top four can be divided between new emerging technologies (artificial intelligence and next-generation health) and waning emerging technologies (mobile applications and e-commerce). These waning technologies are not disappearing but are becoming accepted and assimilated into processes and becoming a form of general-purpose technology. South African government has a robust track record of involvement and prioritisation of digital agendas in Africa.