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South African National IFAP Committee discusses the ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence in the 4th Industrial Revolution

03 October 2019

The African Centre of Excellence for Information Ethics, that hosts the South African National IFAP Committee, organized a meeting on  last August 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa on the Preliminary study on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence produced by the World Commission on Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST)

Several South African actors have been sensitized to the ethical implications of artificial intelligence, following a presentation on the key findings in the recently published preliminary study on the ethics of artificial intelligence by the COMEST Chairperson Prof Peter Paul Verbeek.  The COMEST study explains Artificial Intelligence and investigates the ethical aspects of Artificial Intelligence, taking the UNESCO domains of education, science, culture, and communication as a starting point, as well as the ethical dimensions of peace, cultural diversity, gender equality, and sustainability.

Participants highlighted the Information Ethical perspectives on the suggested ethical principles and discussed the importance of Information Scientists and the larger academic, industry and civil society community in making artificial intelligence inclusive, responsible and transparent.  The participants also discussed the importance of awareness raising activities and education, especially when rethinking education in Africa and placing the emphasis on specific digital competencies for future economies. 

Prof Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem from the University of Pretoria and Ethics of AI Research Chair from the Centre for the AI Research recommended that skills such as communication, collaboration, creative and critical thinking should be included in basic education and all students should have basic AI literacy and 4th Industrial Revolution technology abilities, including formal training in the ethics of AI.  If this could be achieved, we may actually have a chance to ensure that no one is left behind, she added.

Other core considerations also included the multi-disciplinary nature of these discussion which require a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up approach between government, academia, industry and civil society. Lastly, participants also emphasized the importance of Africa being strongly involved in the debates about Artificial Intelligence and its ethical implications. 

UNESCO’s role in assuring that a worldwide debate is taking place on the role of AI was once more reiterated.  The human rights framework and the Sustainable Development Goals provide a consistent way to orient the development of Artificial Intelligence.Thus, the 30th IFAP Bureau organized in Paris on 7 March 2019 a debate on Artificial Intelligence in cooperation with the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) on the ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence.  During this meeting, National IFAP Committees were identified as key actors in sensitizing national decision-makers on the Ethical Implications of Artificial Intelligence.  This event was a follow-up to the IFAP Bureau meeting and underscores the important role of National IFAP Committees in serving as an avenue for the transfer of knowledge and expertise from the international to the national level.  National IFAP Committees work closely with the National Commission for UNESCO and cooperate with other UNESCO national coordination frameworks in the sphere of communication and information.

About IFAP

The Information for All Programme (IFAP) was established in 2001 to provide a platform for international cooperation in the area of access to information and knowledge for the participation of all in the knowledge societies. IFAP is a unique UNESCO intergovernmental programme that focuses on ensuring that all people have access to information they can use to improve their lives. The IFAP Bureau consists of eight Member States nominated by the governing Council. It meets twice a year to appraise, select and approve projects as well as to hold thematic debates on issues of importance for the programme.