Assessing the AI Moment from a Global South Perspective

The public release of ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot by OpenAI, in November 2022, percolated the public consciousness with the disruptive potential, both incredible and iniquitous, of emerging general purpose AI technologies. In the following months, AI has dominated the public discourse and imagination, with tech organizations trying to capture the attention of digital natives with an ever increasing number and versions of bots, tools, and APIs.

The AI dialogue, though, has preceded the current sensationalism with strands of both optimism – of the potential of a malleable cognitive capacity resource – and skepticism – of techno utopian and technocratic promises. In this discourse, voices and concerns about development, economic justice, and global equity from the Global South, marginalized identities, and other vulnerable sections – the classes who have traditionally been excluded and expelled from the gains of the digital revolution and are most vulnerable to harm – have remained at the periphery.

From the standpoint of the Global South, IT for Change has engaged with unpacking the AI revolution, straddling design justice questions with a broader political economy perspective on the dilemmas of AI governance. Our research and policy engagement seeks to center development sovereignty questions and cognitive.

Think Pieces

Intelligent but Gendered: Lessons from Welfare Automation in the Global South

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Feb 2022: This think piece was written by Shehla Rashid as part of our ‘Re-wiring India's Digitalising Economy for Women's Rights and Well-being’ project, supported by the European Union and FES.

While AI holds the promise of improving human lives in its emphasis on ‘augmenting’ human capabilities, this does not seem to be the priority of welfare automation systems which are deployed by private entities at the behest of governments with an overt emphasis on cost-saving. Digitisation is a requirement today, but automation is a Big Data-enabled affordance, implying that algorithms need data more than welfare needs algorithms. This explains the current push for ‘smart’ governance across the Global South which offers huge real-life datasets and often, a regulatory vacuum. This paper highlights the risks of diversion of resources from welfare toward digitisation and automation; of private capture of public data; and of the use of public data and public infrastructure to build private capabilities without any improvement in welfare. It argues that while consent is an important issue, it is internal to the logic of datafication and is often vitiated in digital welfare initiatives.

Lessons From a Pandemic: Three Provocations for AI Governance

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Dec 2020: This essay was written by Amba Kak for the ‘A Digital New Deal as if People and Planet Matter’ compendium, published in collaboration with the Just Net Coalition.

What, if anything, can the global pandemic teach us about regulating AI? Through three provocations (AI as abstraction; AI as distraction; AI policy as infrastructure policy), this essay explores how the data-driven responses to – and the technology-related impacts of – the Covid-19 pandemic hold crucial insights for the emergent policy terrain around algorithmic accountability and the political economy of AI systems.

Imagining the AI We Want: Towards a New AI Constitutionalism

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Nov 2020: This essay was written by Jun-E Tan for the ‘A Digital New Deal as if People and Planet Matter’ compendium, published in collaboration with the Just Net Coalition.

A movement towards AI constitutionalism has begun, as stakeholders come together to articulate the values and principles that should inform the development, deployment, and use of AI. This essay outlines the current state of AI constitutionalism and argues that existing discourses and initiatives center on non-legally binding AI ethics that are overly narrow and technical in their substance, and overlook systemic and structural concerns. This essay suggests three principles for an AI constitutionalism rooted in societal and local contexts: viewing AI as a means instead of an end, with an emphasis on clarifying the objectives and analyzing the feasibility of the technology in providing solutions; emphasizing relationality in AI ethics, moving away from an individualistic and rationalistic paradigm; and envisioning an AI governance that goes beyond self-regulation by the industry, and is instead supported by checks and balances, institutional frameworks, and regulatory environments arrived at through participatory processes.

Research Outputs

Beyond the North-South Fork on the Road to AI Governance: An Action Plan for Democratic & Distributive Integrity

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Mar 2022: Informed by discussions within a 21-member expert working group, of which our executive director, Anita Gurumurthy is a part, assembled by Initiate: Digital Rights in Society and the Paris Peace Forum, this paper proposes that AI constitutionalism and a rights-based approach should guide the development of high-level international protocols and conventions that will set policymaking standards for AI’s development and deployment, worldwide, and recommends several key actions to work toward a less fragmented AI policy landscape that incorporates the interests and concerns of Global South countries.

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Reconceptualising Development in Times of Digital Intelligence

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Sep 2019: As AI becomes pervasive, it reinvents the systemic logic that underpins social institutions and their norms and practices and rewrites economic, governance, and social processes. The idea of development that AI technologies seem to endorse need to be carefully scrutinized so that these may be redirected towards equitable ends. IT for Change's project, Reconceptualising Development in Times of Digital Intelligence, is aimed at exploring these themes.

As part of this project, we explored the growing role of AI in governance, agriculture, finance, education, and ports sector through a series of essays.

Media Pieces

Artificial Data for Artificial Intelligence: Could This Be a Game Changer? (Bot Populi)

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May 2023: From being used to assess possible configurations of car crashes, to proposing new mathematical theorems, and training ad-delivery services synthetic data has a myriad of uses. But while synthetic data technology seems like a great solution to many problems of the modern tech sphere, it is certainly no magic bullet. Questions of fairness, reliability, and trust concern everyone involved in the industry, from annotators to engineers. Furthermore, the urgency of competent regulation before the technology robs value chains cannot be overstated. While examining these issues, this essay suggests ways to future-proof synthetic data, including policy measures that are immediately required toward this end.

Meet the New Influencers: Artificial Intelligence (Bot Populi)

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May 2023: Virtual influencers (VIs) have gained tremendous popularity in recent years owing to the rise of virtual reality technologies, Big Tech’s accelerated push toward the Metaverse, and brands expanding their focus on social media advertising. However, despite rising popularity and immense social media reach, VIs today have found themselves on the back foot with regard to a number of issues, including perpetuating racism, unrealistic body standards, and in some cases even becoming the puppets of high-end tech and lifestyle brands. What impact do these virtual beings have on their followers, and by extension, on society at large? This article attempts to answer these questions.

An ‘Atmanirbhar’ AI will Benefit India. Here’s Why (Hindustan TImes)

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Apr 2023: The release of ChatGPT was a disruptive moment which defined the notion of AI in public consciousness; about its power and its key role in society. Parminder Jeet Singh, in his article, writes about taking stock of what society should be doing about such an all-powerful phenomenon, which may determine the future course of humanity.

The Human Labor of Automation (Bot Populi)

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Dec 2022: Probing beyond the simplistic and apocalyptic prognoses of automation, Moritz Altenreid studies the configurations of human labor that are part of the development of AI, and the ways in which they are being subjected to a new form of ‘Taylorism’. Altenried’s essay analyzes how some elements of classical Taylorism – surveillance, measurement, deskilling – are manifesting under new circumstances, while also observing what is different about the digitalized version of this phenomenon from its industrial era avatar.

Artificial Intelligence and the Feminist Decolonial Imagination (Bot Populi)

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Jun 2022: Many economies in the Global North and Big Tech firms use AI as a geopolitical tool, which results in the concentration of wealth, knowledge, and control. Such a power concentration generates global asymmetries that contribute to the reproduction of oppressive systems such as capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy. In the backdrop of this reality, this essay underscores the need to advance the feminist and decolonial imagination to develop AI technologies under ethical frameworks that consider the harms associated with the AI lifecycle. Furthermore, through examples of unique, community-led projects, this essay highlights how alternative AI technology can be developed to suit the best interests of local communities and empower them.

AI and Associated Tech Developments Hold Threats But Also Opportunities for Inclusive Growth in India (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung)

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Dec 2020: Big data, mobile connectivity, and AI are dominating the daily lives of Indians faster than some predicted. But is the country poised to make the most of this technological revolution, or do we need to adjust the whole discourse and trajectory? IT for Change participates in this interview to shed light on ensuring disruptive yet constructive contribution through AI in different sectors.

A Plan for Indian Self-Sufficiency in an AI-Driven World (Mint)

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Jul 2020: Geo-political and economic power in the industrial age was determined by one’s expertise in manufacturing. In a digital society, it’s likely to be based on command over AI. In this op-ed, Parminder Jeet Singh writes about the development of AI and what it entails for nation-states; their data, economies, and polities. 

Deep Unlearning? AI and Africa’s Struggling Public Institutions (Bot Populi)

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Jul 2020: This article focuses on the importance of responsible use of AI in the African context. It outlines the ethical questions associated with AI as its global use increases across domains including healthcare, agriculture, law-enforcement, etc. It examines how AI is being used by authoritarian regimes to surveil their citizens, and by entertainment platforms to polarize public opinions and make us 'digital serfs'. It also brings to light the algorithmic biases based on data optimization techniques. The author warns of a darker future for AI as citizens are forced to choose between healthcare and data privacy during the pandemic. He advocates for a rights-based approach to AI in Africa which will ensure that it works for the majority and not a select few.

In a New AI-Led World Order, We Need to Rewrite the Rules of Data Capitalism

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Mar 2020: In the scramble for AI-led development, what would global algorithmic justice look like? Anita Gurumurthy answers the question in a two-part on the new AI economy, a part of Open Democracy’s 'Decolonising the economy' series. 

In the first part, Anita writes about the current discourse around AI and ethics and how it affects and is affected by the sense of immediacy percolating in governments around the world to capture the AI moment. In the second part, Anita explores the question about whether AI will be a weapon of social injustice or an agent of positive change? Her submission that it depends on the stories we choose to weave.

Governance of Data and Artificial Intelligence (Bot Populi)

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July 2019: Platform corporations, with their machine learning models, reproduce structural gender and racial discrimination. Public awareness and detailed knowledge about how algorithms are shaped by biases and political or economic interests and how this impacts women’s opportunities and policy making are currently missing. This article explores how growing digitalization is shaping public policy spaces and shifting the ways in which we understand our civic, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

What “Datafication” means for the Right to Development (Bot Populi)

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June 2019: Ansgar Koene is a Senior Research Fellow at the Horizon Institute for Digital Economy Research (University of Nottingham) and chairs the IEEE working group for the P7003 Standard for Algorithmic Bias Considerations. In this interview, Ansgar responds to questions about regulating bias in AI and the viability of AI-for-good.

Artificial Intelligence: The Good, Bad and Ugly

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Sep 2018: The growth of technologies like AI, IoT, blockchain, etc. promises to solve the most pressing social and economic challenges of our time. However, technology-based decision-making also raises important questions on how the right to development will be realized in this new digital paradigm. In this article, Anita Gurumurthy and Deepti Bharthur focus on the right to development, and governance in the aforementioned context.

Artificial Intelligence and the Threat to Humanity

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Jun 2017: In this piece, Prabir Purkayastha outlines the dangers of discrimination against vulnerable and marginalized communities that can arise from automated algorithmic decision making.

Events & Engagements

Building a Human-AI Future

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Aug 2023: How is artificial intelligence (AI) transforming the face and future of lives and work in India? What are the potential gains and pitfalls of AI for Indian businesses? How do we move forward while keeping compassion and consideration at the center of a human-and-AI world? Anita Gurumurthy took part in a panel discussion organized by the Asia Society India Centre, where speakers explored these questions. Along with Anita, Aakrit Vaish (Co-founder and CEO, Haptik), Karthik Reddy (Co-founder, Blume Ventures), and Anirudh Suri (Founding Partner, India Internet Fund) also took part in the discussion that was held on 8 August 2023.

Roundtable on Reframing AI Governance through a Political Economy Lens 

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Jun 2023: IT for Change organized a hybrid roundtable on Reframing AI governance through a political economy lens in Amsterdam, in collaboration with the Transnational Institute. This roundtable brought together a small group of scholars and activists to examine the building blocks of a transformative approach to AI governance. Both through in-person and via remote participation, participants made short, insightful provocations that examined the political economy considerations in AI governance and deliberated on the new institutional arrangements necessary to advance AI as a catalyst of generative and accountable economies and societies. 

IT for Change's Response to the DoT Consultation Paper on the AI Stack 

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Oct 2020: IT for Change responded to the Department of Telecom’s (DoT) consultation paper on the Artificial Intelligence Stack released by its AI Standardization Committee in September 2020. The development of a broad framework for standards to solve potential challenges that may emerge from the deployment of AI solutions across the country will be helpful in framing future discussions on the creation of guidelines or regulations by the Government of India as the technology continues to mature. However, we found several instances of lack of clarity in articulation of issues and recommendations in the paper which we highlighted in our submission.

IT for Change's Proposed Resolution on Technology and Surveillance at Janta Parliament

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Aug 2020: Anita Gurumurthy participated in a session on Technology and Surveillance for the Janta Parliament, a virtual peoples' Parliament. IT for Change presented a resolution on a framework law for digital rights at the parliament.

Watch the complete video of Anita’s statement here.

Making the AI-Development Connection at the AIES Conference 2020

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Feb 2020: Anita Gurumurthy delivered the keynote at the Association for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) and Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) conference on AI, Ethics and Society. Her presentation emphasized that thinking through the governance of AI needs new frameworks that can grapple with the fraught questions of data ownership, data sovereignty, economic democracy, and institutional ethics, in a global world with local aspirations. Any effort towards norm development in this domain will need to see the geo-economics of digital intelligence and the geo-politics of development ideologies as two sides of the same coin.

Find the complete presentation here.

Anita Gurumurthy at the Internet Governance Forum 2016 – Opening Session

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Dec 2016: Anita Gurumurthy, representing IT for Change, was nominated to speak at the Opening Session of the Internet Governance Forum at Guadalajara, Mexico. In her address, Anita highlighted the growing unfreedoms of a datafied world and the urgent need for social movements to come together to develop an internet that can be individually empowering, collectively enriching and ecologically restorative through the democratic rule of law in global governance

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