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Eastern Africa is not ready to accept artificial intelligence

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three young ethiopian girls, one is holding an ipad

World Risk Poll data has found that Eastern Africa is the least optimistic region in the world about artificial intelligence (AI), with more than half (51%) of respondents saying it would mostly harm people in their country over the next 20 years.

A Digital World: Perceptions of risk from AI and misuse of personal data

Read the report

Distrust and perceived harm amid limited access and education

Despite the potentially transformative applications of AI, only one in five (22%) of Eastern Africa’s population believe it will mostly help people in the next 20 years. Detailed in a new report by Lloyd’s Register Foundation – A Digital World: Perceptions of risk from AI and misuse of personal data – the results indicate the future challenges of AI adoption and acceptance by the region.

The report is based on the 2021 Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, powered by Gallup. 125,000 people across 121 countries were polled about their attitudes towards AI and data, among other risk and safety issues.

Eastern Africa showed the highest levels of distrust towards AI, with clear majorities answering that AI would harm people in their country. Among the East African countries, respondents from Tanzania (62%), Kenya (57%) and Uganda (57%) had the highest percentages of people who said AI would mostly harm people, while no more than 25% in these three countries said it would mostly help.

A key barrier, according to the survey findings, is the level of exposure people in Eastern Africa have to AI technology through internet access and education. The Poll found that only 29% of Eastern Africans had used the internet in the past 30 days, which is 34 percentage points lower than the global average (63%). It also found that people with primary education or less still represents the majority in Eastern Africa, at 55%.

Dr Sarah Cumbers, Director of Evidence and Insight at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said: “Artificial intelligence has huge potential to bring good to the world, and we’re already seeing some of its benefits within healthcare, disaster risk management and government services. However, if we don’t engage the public with the development of these technologies and address their concerns, we may fail to introduce them in a way that is accepted by the majority.

“Our report has highlighted low levels of trust when it comes to Eastern Africa’s attitude towards AI technology, with more than half of people there primarily associating it with harm. Those who are not regularly exposed to AI technology, whether through internet access, work or education, seem to have less optimism about its potential benefits and therefore show a higher level of distrust. There may also be a level of worry around people losing their jobs as a result of potential automation of some processes.

“It’s essential that governments, policymakers and other actors within the system engage with the population to address their concerns and ensure the benefits of AI technology can be realised equitably.”

View the data snapshots for the countries highlighted in this story: Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia.