« Artificial Intelligence in Africa, an important lever in influence strategies », Dr. Mariam Aïdara

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On behalf of the governing body of Dakar Science Po, the Grande Ecole Panafricaine de Science Politique, she addressed a few words of welcome at the opening of the conference.

The panelists pointed out that Artificial Intelligence marks a prodigious evolution of information and communication technologies (ICT). « Digital technology and digital transformation constitute a keystone and a major challenge for the future of our humanity, the mastery of which, by us, seems increasingly hypothetical, » she noted.

On the theme: « Why should artificial intelligence challenge our political decision-makers », the panelists took care to tell the various participants what artificial intelligence is; « a definition that is not yet universally shared ». The only certainty is that it is firmly anchored in the digital transformation that has been consubstantial to its birth and development since the 1940s. « Today, it refers to a wide range of disciplines, technologies, methods, implementation philosophies, questions and, above all, legitimate apprehensions, justified or not, » said the Director General.

She recalled that in his approach, Stuart Russell, co-author of the reference manual, « Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach », defines it as « the study of the methods by which computers behave intelligently ». This encompasses tasks inherent in learning, reasoning, planning, perception, language understanding and robotics, placing it at the heart of the new industrial revolution.

Indeed, AI is bringing technological progress to the point of disrupting societies and economies, and is attracting increasing attention from the public and private sectors, researchers, civil society, but also from the international community and policy makers.

« Never before has artificial intelligence been so central to debates in the world, and Africa is no exception to this trend, which is why it is our duty to invite you to this reflection, » said Ms. Aïdara. It is important, according to her, to note that AI is progressing rapidly and is becoming an important lever in the strategies of influence and power.

This applies to both hard power (military applications) and soft power (economic impact, political and cultural influence, etc.). The United States and China dominate the market and impose their power. Europe is lagging behind and is trying to react by issuing new regulations. As for the situation in Africa, which will not escape the panelists’ notice, it has become a battleground for the « digital empires ».

National actors are increasingly aware of the strategic, political, economic and military stakes of AI development. They are also anticipating its impact in all areas, including on elections, as shown by the interference in the US presidential election in 2016, and in the Brexit referendum.

AI has already become a tool of power and will become more so as its applications, particularly in the military field, develop. In his opinion, however, it would be a mistake to focus exclusively on hard power, as AI indirectly influences its users through the cultural, commercial and political world. This soft power benefits above all the Sino-American digital empires and raises major ethical issues of political and economic governance.

In this regard, Henry Kissinger expressed his concern about AI in The Atlantic in June 2018, in an article entitled « How the Enlightenment Ends », where he explains that human societies were not prepared for the rise of AI. Without explicitly naming it, he denounces the impact of AI on the US election campaign, talking about the ability to target microgroups, especially on social networks, and the possibility of blurring the sense of priorities.

While AI can influence voters in democratic countries, it can also be used in authoritarian states, and even, iteratively in Africa, to reinforce control over populations, to give just these examples. It is therefore the place to recognise that AI presents both proven or real threats and exceptional opportunities on which the panelists have agreed to shed light that will alleviate the apprehensions of the participants in the meeting while providing them with answers relating to the problematic of the subject.

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