Talk: How can AI be used for Social Good? Lessons from Africa’s Voices Foundation

Part of Africa’s Voices’ core mission is to spark engaging and inclusive conversation that challenge norms and behaviours. In line with our commitment to shifting norms and firing up debates, we often share our knowledge, learnings and expertise with a wider audience. This month, our co-founder and Executive Director, Sharath Srinivasan, travelled to Cambridge to share, along with out Director of Innovation and Learning, Luke Church, what five years of Africa’s Voices has taught us about utilising artificial intelligence for social good. Here’s a short description of what they are talking about:

Advanced computational technologies suffer from a growing catalogue of failure and abuse and heightened concern over their use to extract and harvest personal data to build systems that commodify, disempower or manipulate ‘users’. Yet are standard large-scale social research instruments such as surveys sufficiently better? In Global South contexts, citizens are too often commodified research subjects, disempowered in the very act of handing over personal information to an opaque research exercise with obscure policy or intervention outcomes.

 Africa’s Voices Foundation, a non-profit start-up, spun out of combined socio-political and technological research at Cambridge. From Nairobi and Cambridge, AVF works with partners such as UNICEF , Oxfam, the MasterCard Foundation and many others to help them “listen intelligently” to the citizens whom they serve with scale, depth and speed. To do this, we design socio-technical systems that subvert the extractive, commodifying and dehumanising logics of mainstream artificial intelligence and research instrument approaches. This requires accepting the methodological and technical burden that comes from engaging with citizens as social agents rather than extracting from subjects as sources of data. To listen_rather_than_sense, we use AI to augment human capabilities for interpreting social evidence rather than to automate data-driven decision-making. AVF ’s learnings shed a light on what technological innovation, driven by socially-conscious applications of AI, might look like if not borne of commodification, power or control.

More about the talk here. Blog to follow soon!

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