A Responsible AI Network – Africa

It started with the development of an all-wheel drive for rural Africa. Today, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) are joining forces to create a Partnership for Innovation and Sustainable Development, particularly related to water, energy, environment, mobility, and global health. Building on a successful relationship, KNUST and TUM act together as change agents in the world combining capacity development with direct action aiming at an immediate as well as sustainable impact. TUM and its students are driven be the need to find practical solutions for today’s difficult problems. Several interdisciplinary projects have been created through our partnership with KNUST. One of the projects is the Responsible AI Network – Africa (RAIN-Africa).

A regional approach to the responsible use of AI is a key topic for those working on sustainable development. KNUST and TUM researchers aim to promote interdisciplinary collaboration on this topic. Organizations working on the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations General Assembly are increasingly focused on AI-based technologies due to their promise to improve well-being and, in turn, reduce poverty. However, the specific impacts of these technologies often remain unknown. The transnational nature of AI technology also implies a growing need to understand how it may affect different societies. In light of this, Dr. Jerry John Kponyo from the Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering at KNUST and Prof. Dr. Christoph Lütge and Dr. Caitlin Corrigan from TUM’s Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence (IEAI) are developing a network of scholars to join forces on the topic of responsible AI with a focus on sustainability in the context of Africa. We talked to Dr. Corrigan about the details of the project.

Launch of the Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence ©Andreas Heddergott


Why is a regional approach to the responsible use of AI a key topic for those working on sustainable development?

AI has recently received high priority in academic, industrial and governmental organizations that are focused on sustainable development due to its promise to improve social and economic well-being and assist in the reduction of poverty. However, the specific impacts of these emerging technologies often remain unknown. For example, some of the same technologies that can help in the collection of data, improve administration efficiency and promote social inclusion can also worsen societal bias, or advantage some groups of individuals over others. Moreover, the transnational nature of AI-based technology platforms makes the ethical issues associated with their use a global concern.

Because AI inherently interacts with its surroundings, cultural, political and environmental differences in context may produce different sets of ramifications (positive or negative) resulting from the use of AI-based technology. The IEAI’s recent comparative study of the implementation of AI-enabled contact tracing technology across countries provides a timely example of this fact. Much of the research has up to now been focused on the impacts of AI in North America and Western Europe, but there is a growing need to understand how AI may impact or be accepted by societies in other settings, such as those in African countries.


How can AI-based technologies be used to improve well-being and reduce poverty?

There are many examples of how AI is impacting sustainable development. In terms of improving society and well-being, advancements in AI-based precision agriculture are useful for advancing the goal of no hunger. AI enabled triage and diagnostic tools help under-resourced health care systems do more with less. Healthcare related chat bots allow vital information to reach underserved rural areas. AI enabled educational tools help to tailor education to student needs. Smart electricity grids and interconnected traffic also help reduce energy waste and work toward Clean Energy and Sustainable Cities, which is particularly useful in regions where energy flows are inconsistent. Because social well-being is intimately connected to environmental well-being, the use of AI to manage climate change is also an important application. AI can be useful in managing wildlife and ecosystems or helping to plan for climate change adaption through improved modeling. Another application is through AI-enabled earth observation; which the IEAI will be working on through our project with the Department of Aerospace and Geodesy, the Department of Mathematics and the DLR.

You can find more about the RAIN-Africa network and our May 28th presentation on AI and the SDG at:


What are some of the research questions on how AI is potentially affecting different societies?

As mentioned above, the IEAI has published a short brief and is beginning a study on the comparative use of contact/proximity tracing apps for managing COVID-19. A major question is how contextual differences influence the development, implementation and effectiveness of these applications. We will be working with our Global AI Ethics Consortium (GAIEC) on this and other projects this coming year. The GAIEC brings together experts in AI ethics from around the world for exactly this purpose, to bring regional and diverse perspectives to the ethical challenges associated with AI. We hope to bring members of the RAIN-Africa network into these types of projects in the future and also envision the networks serving as a place for emerging researchers to connect with each other along common interests in order to take a regional perspective on responsible AI.


More about TUM School of Management’s commitment to Ethics, Responsibility and Sustainability.

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