Responsible AI for Africa's Just Transition to the Circular Economy
Combining the potential of AI with a vision for Circularity represents a significant, largely untapped, opportunity to harness disruptive technologies and address the most pressing challenges of our time.
As artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) become more ubiquitous general-purpose technologies, their potential to resolve some of the world’s most pressing planetary challenges, including the apex challenge of climate change, has put them at the top of global research and policy agendas, often under the cloak of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Moreover, the global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that regional structural economic deficiencies and intersectional inequalities are amplified as the economic and social value of the digital economy increases exponentially.
For Africa, beyond the known potential risks and harms associated with AI systems, the aforementioned challenges arguably highlight fragilities that already plague the continent and will no doubt be worsened if countries continue to design and implement mitigation and adaptation approaches to digitalisation, inequality, and climate change (which have cross-cutting policy implications) with incoherent siloed approaches.
AI presents the opportunity to support efforts that could fundamentally reshape the economy into one that is regenerative, resilient, and fit for the long term; particularly if AI is based on the principles of a circular economy model (CEM), which is underpinned by dynamic and innovative business models, new products and services, institutions, and infrastructure that can create unique, inclusive, and reformative systems across all industries. This has the potential to mitigate rising carbon emissions, reduce socioeconomic inequality, and facilitate a structural transition towards diversified, sustainable, equitable, and thriving African markets in the coming decades.