By Chanel Retief
A new report released by Oxford Insights shows that even though there is a digital divide as well as data poverty in Africa, five countries on the continent are taking leaps into leveraging technologies to accelerate economic growth with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In the 2020 Government AI Readiness Index Mauritius took the 45th position globally out of 172 countries across the world, making it the highest-ranked African country on the index. According to Oxford Insights, Mauritius has always been forward-looking in terms of AI as it is is the only country on the continent to have published an AI strategy.
“Mauritius approach to AI is fantastic… They have a clear strategy as to what they want to achieve. They are also bringing the private sector and academia with them. They have a council with all of these sectors on them. They are investing in the skills and they are thinking about how that can be transferred back into the industry. That’s amazing and that’s the perfect playbook,” Richard Stirling, Oxford Insights CEO says.
The methodology of this index looks at a countries’ government’s willingness to adopt AI and if the country has a good supply of AI expertise and tools from the technology sector. In addition to that part, these tools need to be built and trained on high-quality and representative data with the appropriate infrastructure to be delivered to and used by citizens.
Mauritius is also ranked 13 out of 34 countries on this year’s Responsible Use Sub-Index. This index, also by Oxford Insights, tracks the ethical use of AI in countries across the globe. The debate around responsible AI was put into focus this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, issues around privacy as well as ongoing global inequality. The index was measured using inclusivity, accountability, transparency, and privacy as some of its main indicators.
“Just because you are good at building AI, it does not mean you are using it ethically and responsibly,” Stirling says.
Among Mauritius, South Africa was also placed 59th globally on Government AI Readiness Index, Seychelles 68th, Kenya 71st, and Rwanda taking the 87th position. And although these countries are lower, Stirling elaborates on how these countries have focused on skills development which will harness the potential for AI not only in public services but in other sectors. Nations from the US, the UK to Russia, China, and Israel hold the top positions on the index, however, there are no countries in Africa in the top 20.
“We are lagging in technological development so we are playing catch up most of the time and essentially we are in catch up mode,” Araba Sey, Sub-Saharan Africa AI expert, commented on the Oxford Insights website.
Jean Lebel, President, International Development Research Centre (IDRC), added in a statement that though Ai has the potential to transform governance and public services throughout the world, there is a danger that regions, like in Africa, will be left behind. Lebel further adds that the index should encourage new collaborations and investments that could potentially assist with the barriers to government’s AI readiness and responsibilities.
“We believe that this, in part, will help those currently lagging behind in our index to improve their AI readiness so that existing economic and technology inequality doesn’t become further entrenched and leave billions of citizens with worse quality public services,” Lebel said.