Higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi wondered whether Namibia has the right technological solutions for the developmental challenges on the ground - spanning from green energy, healthcare, food shortages, climate change and youth unemployment - to digital exclusion.
She stated this at the Southern Africa sub-Regional Forum on Artificial Intelligence in the capital yesterday. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), in collaboration with Namibia (higher education ministry), is hosting the forum under the theme ‘Towards Development-Oriented Sustainable and Ethical Use of Artificial Intelligence’.
The three days will be filled with exchanges and debates between senior technical officials and ministers on the important role that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can play in the development of the sub-region.
Kandjii-Murangi asked, “as we inch towards a reality check on progress towards Agenda 2030, how aligned are we when we consider the promising potential of AI among critical emerging technologies? I may sound like I am opening a barrage of questions. The main point here is that it is high time we ask the right questions to validate AI solutions that we may be advocating for economic growth and societal relevance.”
She added that “a reality check is now needed on whether we have AI for development, or we are missing some key ingredients to harvest the full potential of AI”.
The forum has brought together southern African ministers of science and technology and ministers of ICT, local and global AI experts, business leaders, government organisations and civil society to leverage synergies and shape a shared agenda for the development and use of AI in southern African states for the common good, with strong and clear ethical and human-rights-based foundations.
Lidia Arthur Brito, regional director and representative for southern Africa, Unesco, Zimbabwe, says the technical session will offer an opportunity for senior experts from relevant government ministries in southern Africa and other technical stakeholders to deliberate on the development of AI.
“Relevant themes such as governance and standard-setting, capacity-building, inclusion and equality and partnerships will also be deliberated. Several side events will be held throughout the forum, highlighting the practical hands-on aspects of AI and its relevance, notably to African youth,” noted Brito.
The executive director (ED) in the higher education ministry Alfred van Kent said the rapid developments in electronics, coding and its interface with mechanics and life sciences have brought above innovations that led to the development of advanced technologies for automated production systems, high-speed communication technologies as well as medical technologies.
“The high-speed processing capabilities of modern machines enable machines or robots to recognise patterns, learn from past processes, and compare options to derive solutions for problems. This ability of machines is referred to as intelligence of devices,” he observed.
Van Kent said: “Key to these contemporary developments are the collection, storage, analysis and use of large datasets for business, planning and national policy and strategy development. Because our data, work and business information are stored on systems connected to the world, it raises the question of access without authorisation. This brings about the question of ethics in accessing and using private and confidential data and information.”