What is the state of AI regulation in Africa as the rest of the world scrutinises ChatGPT

Godfrey Elimian
OpenAI to launch ChatGPT Professional, a premium paid version
ChatGPT Professional, a premium paid version- Photo Credit: Forbes

Italy became the first western country to ban chatGPT last week. The OpenAI chatbot has dominated social conversations lately, primarily because of the possibilities and consequences it poses to the tech space ad social sphere.

According to Italy’s press release, user privacy is the main reason behind the ban. The country’s National Authority for Data Protection said there were privacy concerns relating to the model the Microsoft-backed startup, OpenAI, created. It says OpenAI has 20 days to comply. If not, the company could be fined €20 million or 4 per cent of its global revenue, whichever is larger. Italy has also launched an official investigation into the technology.

The authorities are also concerned that ChatGPT does not have adequate privacy protections for user data and has no regulations for minors. The English translation of the press release calls the ban a “temporary limitation,” and it is unclear how long it might last.

According to the authorities, ChatGPT had “suffered a data breach on March 20 concerning users’ conversations and payment information of subscribers to the paid service.”

The regulator said it would immediately ban and investigate OpenAi to find out whether it complied with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which governs how businesses can use, process and store personal data.

Privacy fears for ChatGPT as more countries are set to ban the AI chatbot

Reservations on AI chatbots

Before Italy banned ChatGPT, AI chatbots had generated much criticism based on the impending social consequences it poses. Analysts and experts have raised over its potential misuse. IT leaders are worried it will soon be used in major cyberattacks, with the potential to cause devastation in the future. They say it might threaten the workspace’s social dynamics and may soon cause intellectual properties to become lost.

Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak were among the hundreds of well-known technologists, businessmen, and researchers who last week urged AI labs to halt work on active AI systems immediately. They urged programmers to take a break from the “out-of-control race” to release ever-more advanced products while we better understand advanced artificial intelligence’s dangers to humanity.

In a survey of 1,500 IT and cybersecurity professionals conducted by BlackBerry, 51% of respondents believed that ChatGPT will be responsible for a successful cyberattack in the next 12 months. As much as 78% feel that attack will happen within two years, while a handful thinks it could happen within the next few months.

But this was not the reason cited by the Italian authority or the countries currently examining and investigating the platform. Instead, a lack of data sharing and privacy concerns about the AI chatbot is beginning to send a frenzy amongst countries, which are now looking at blocking the use of the chatbot at various levels in their domain.

Some have even begun taking steps to curtail the threats posed by AI in general by making useful legislation against it and its jurisdictions.

Read also: China’s Baidu unveils Ernie Bot, another AI chatbot to rival ChatGPT

Privacy fears for ChatGPT as more countries are set to ban the AI chatbot
Image credit: Shutterstock

Countries that may ban ChatGPT soon

Italy’s decision has inspired neighbouring countries to regulate ChatGPT and other AI products. For context, Various cities in France have already started their research “to assess the changes brought about by ChatGPT and the consequences of its use in the context of local action,” reports Ouest-France.

ChatGPT is already blocked in various countries like China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.

North Korea have strict regulations over the use of the internet, and thus, consequently, apply to the AI chatbot. Other countries that fall under this category include Iran, Syria and Cuba.

The city of Montpellier wants to ban ChatGPT for municipal staff as a precaution,” the paper reports. “The ChatGPT software should be banned within municipal teams considering its use could be detrimental.”

Also, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the U.K.’s independent data regulator, told the BBC that it would “support” developments in AI but was also ready to “challenge non-compliance” with data protection laws.

According to the BBC, the Irish data protection commission is following up with the Italian regulator to understand the basis for its action and “will coordinate with all E.U. (European Union) data protection authorities” in connection with the ban.

The possible legislations

Possible legislative actions and litigations against the AI chatbot can arise from the calibre and volume of the data used for training ChatGPT’s primary function, which OpenAI is yet to publicly disclose the origin and grounds on copyright laws of most countries which chatGPT contradicts.

Others include cybersecurity concerns, as the tool can compose perfect and wonderfully crafted phoney emails, and data privacy concerns, which are currently being explored by some of the countries and cities listed above.

The E.U. is in the process of preparing the Artificial Intelligence Act, the legislation “to define which AIs are likely to have societal consequences,” explains Le Parisien. “This future law should in particular make it possible to fight against the racist or misogynistic biases of generative artificial intelligence algorithms and software (such as ChatGPT).”

Read also: Microsoft could acquire majority stake in OpenAI, integrate ChatGPT into its products

The Artificial Intelligence Act also contemplates appointing one regulator per country for artificial intelligence.

Finally, despite initial worries about the platform’s potential data and privacy flaws, ChatGPT’s release last year sparked a tech boom that has prompted rivals to release comparable products and businesses to incorporate it or related technologies into their apps and products.

AI regulation in Africa

There is no indication that this AI adoption will slow down anytime soon, particularly in Africa, where users have investigated the various uses of the chatbot, and concerns have not been as vocalized.

However, nations like Egypt, Rwanda, and Mauritius have National AI policies that cover adoption, private-sector contribution, and data strategy. and ethical guidelines, among others. For instance, there is a clear emphasis in the emerging frameworks, particularly Egypt’s National AI Strategy, on ensuring that human labour is not replaced by AI-driven automation wholesale

In 2021, SMARTAfrica and the South African government published the Blueprint on Artificial Intelligence for Africa. (SMARTAfrica is an alliance that includes the Presidents of Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mali, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, South Sudan, Chad, the Commissioner of Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission and the Secretary General of ITU.)

Expressing AI as a general-purpose technology that affects all levels of society and the economy, the Blueprint sets out five pillars of a successful AI strategy for African countries: 

  • Human capital, including a technologically skilled workforce and AI talent; 
  • From lab to market and the design of AI solutions that can be scaled up and attract venture capital investment; 
  • The infrastructure necessary for developing AI locally, such as access to data and high-powered computing;
  • Networking through an expanded ecosystem of public and private bodies and partnerships, including international organisations and industry bodies; and
  • Regulations to address emerging challenges and opportunities of AI at national and sectoral levels.  

The emerging AI policy frameworks adopted in Africa can go a long way to addressing some of the issues, including concerns around data protection raised by digital ID systems, for example, where strong personal data protection laws and effective oversight bodies can play a key role in countering potential harms.

However, it will be interesting to see how these nations react to the concerns surrounding ChatGPT.

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