Artificial Intelligence and Development: the Missing Link

This seminar clarifies AI4D's role in ICT4D, ensuring AI technologies genuinely support development goals.

- Europe/Lisbon
Open to public

In the domain of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D), actors have been juggling with the acronyms ICT4D and AI4D (AI for Development), indifferently, for the past five years or so. 

Implicitly, the assumption is that, as long as a technology or tool may be used to support Development, it can be considered a part of the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) domain, regardless of the technical and design specificities of this technology/tool. 

As the purposes, usages, and implications of the current AI wave become clearer, the link between AI4D and ICT4D is increasingly questioned and needs to be clarified. It is difficult to articulate a compelling research proposal in which an AI application/tool is used to primarily serve the purpose of Development without implicitly admitting (and contributing to) some unhealthy amalgamations and/or suspicious abstractions, such as: 

  • Confusion of technologies: AI is a specific category of automation technologies, and, as such, it is important not to confuse it with other categories. For example, robots delivering meals and refreshments in restaurants, smart home appliances (i.e. fridges, washing machines, vacuum cleaners) and Mapping/Navigation tools are widely admitted as AI Systems, but they actually are not;
  • Mixing the application domain and the technology category, which means that using technology to serve/enhance the service in a social domain (e-government, e-health, e-learning, etc.) does not mean that this is AI4D;
  • Stating/defending general human rights, social and societal values and principles in a particular project/system, and how technology could support these, does not mean that this is an AI4D project/system.
    Considering the current race that takes place in developing countries to elaborate digital transformation strategies using AI as a core, it seems timely and useful to realign important issues in their context, to clarify their meaning, to contrast them, and to determine how they fit in the Development context and comply with its constraints. It is not healthy to adopt a technology (AI or any other) just because it is new and/or because vendors pretend it can solve all our problems. It is essential to remember that, in the context of ICT4D, technology, including AI, should primarily promote/support Development and consolidate good governance principles. 
    Although AI4D advocators keep on referring to the ‘considerable benefits of AI technology for everyone’, a closer examination shows that, by design, AI does neither particularly take into account the specifics of the Development context nor does it fulfil the fundamentals of the ICT4D field.

Our main goal in this Seminar is to help academics and decision-makers step back and contemplate a bigger picture of AI within the context of Development.


Driss Ketani

Al Akhawayn University

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