We need laws on artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence

Low-risk AI, like chatbots, must be labelled to alert the public that they are interacting with a machine.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks associated with intelligent beings.
  • The European Union is spearheading global norms for AI in a bid to create ethical technology.

Kenya has made bold strides towards embracing artificial intelligence (AI), as evidenced in the formation of the Distributed Ledger and Artificial Intelligence Task Force, chaired by Dr Bitange Ndemo, in 2018 and joining the Artificial Intelligence for Development in Africa (AI4D).

AI is the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks associated with intelligent beings, those that can adapt to circumstances. With Covid-19 challenges of working from home and social distancing, AI already has a role in the development of Covid-19 vaccines.

AI penetration is evident in Kenya with live facial scanners in use and biometric data captured even in Huduma cards but there is still a gap in the law in terms of regulation, insurance and also a threat to people’s safety. More is yet to be done in terms of regulations and public safety in an AI environment. 

Years back, some tea-picking machines were hugely resisted and abandoned over unemployment issues. Just to mention, the Data Protection Act 2019 and the Computer Misuse and Cyber Crimes Act 2018 are a step in the right direction. The Data Commissioner recently gave a directive to control and restrict the use of CCTV footages in schools, homes and churches, a clear effort to rein in data misuse and/or abuse from surveillance machines.

The European Union is spearheading global norms for AI in a bid to create ethical technology. If the General Data Protection Regulations are anything to go by, the EU is again creating a de facto global standard in AI regulations. With the highest internet penetration in Africa, Kenya should woo the African Union to follow suit.

Prevent discrimination

Mass surveillance with remote biometric identification ought to be regulated with strict exceptions to finding missing children and preventing terrorist attacks. It should neither be intrusive nor inaccurate. Since the machine interferes with freedom and open spaces, every effort must be made to prevent discrimination of a certain class of persons or self-incrimination from technological failures.

Laws should rein in unacceptable manipulative behaviours that might exploit children’s vulnerabilities to commit wrongs by directing them to do so; for example, where a toy uses voice systems to command a child. For AI considered high risk, which interfere with important aspects of our lives — like in criminal courts, border control, migration and even transportation — we should ensure operators use high-quality data that eliminates discrimination and have a human in charge. Low-risk AI, like chatbots, must be labelled to alert the public that they are interacting with a machine.

Argument on compulsory ‘no-fault insurance’ cover for AI machines is equally important in law.

Those working with AI must make it a priority to define the field for the problems it will solve and the benefits the technology can have for society. It’s no longer a primary objective for most to get to AI that operates just like a human brain but to use its unique capabilities to enhance our world.

My Ayuo is a legal researcher and tutor. [email protected]

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