Namibia will focus on ethical AI development under UNESCO’s guidance

Niël Terblanché

More than 80 representatives from academia, civil society, the government, and the private sector assembled in Windhoek to deliberate on the responsible and ethical use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Namibia.

The gathering was in line with the Implementation of UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of AI, a project led by the Ministry of Higher Education, Training, and Innovation, in tandem with the UN agency.

The UNESCO Recommendation accentuates the imperatives of transparency, accountability, and inclusivity in AI development and utilization. It ALSO supports the protection of human rights, alongside the promotion of gender equality and diversity in AI undertakings.

During the gathering, Namibia’s endeavour to harness the opportunities that AI offers to bolster national development was evident.

The engagement provided a platform for stakeholders to help formulate a national roadmap guiding the ethical inception and application of AI within the country.

Dr. Alfred Van Kent, Executive Director of the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, expressed concerns about the nuances of technology development.

“Many technologies are developed outside with limited knowledge of our cultures, languages, and indigenous knowledge. Hence, our guiding principles should harmonize with our local governing laws,” he said.

During the meeting, participants stressed the need to boost public comprehension of AI through literacy and awareness.

A deeper understanding would clarify the potential advantages and perils of AI, and how a national framework could steer its application in pivotal sectors, such as education, health, and the labour market.

Dr Lameck Mbangula Amugongo, a lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology, emphasized the role of coding in the country’s digital future.

“Coding is the new literacy. Our digital destiny lies in making coding compulsory. Without equipping our youth with complete tech skills, we risk being dictated by digital services and applications,” he said.

This gathering follows the Southern Africa Regional Forum on Artificial Intelligence (SARFAI) held in Windhoek in September 2022. That forum, themed ‘Towards a development-oriented and sustainable use of artificial intelligence’, fostered collaboration among Southern African nations, aiming for a united, ethical, and human-rights-centric AI development strategy in alignment with UNESCO’s 2021 Recommendation.

The recommendation outlines a Readiness Assessment Methodology (RAM) designed to help member nations evaluate their existing capabilities supporting ethical AI development. Namibia has been selected as a beneficiary country for the Japan-financed pilot project of RAM in Southern and Eastern Africa.

The initiative aspires to assess a nation’s AI infrastructure, policy, and use cases, aiding governments in understanding their AI readiness level.

The culmination of the RAM project will assist countries in tailoring their capacity-building endeavours. Here, ‘capacity’ signifies the competence to evaluate AI systems per the recommendation, ensuring the required human resources, policies, and regulations are in place to tackle AI-driven challenges.

A detailed report will be compiled, presenting a roadmap with specific policy recommendations. The report will eventually pinpoint requisite institutional modifications and enhancements, paving the path for ethical AI in Namibia.

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