CFP: Panel on Pan-African Perspectives and Critical AI, ASAA 11-16 April 2022

Vito Laterza's picture
Dear colleagues,
We invite abstract submissions for a panel we are convening on “Critical AI, Risk Assessment and the Future of the Human: Pan-African Perspectives” as part of the African Studies Association of Africa (ASAA) 4th Biennial Conference, hosted by HUMA, University of Cape Town, 11-16 April 2022 – the event will be hybrid and you can participate digitally.
The deadline for abstract submissions to this panel is Thursday 30 September 2021. You can find our call for submissions below, with instructions on how to submit.
Kind regards,
Vito Laterza, Associate Professor, Centre for Digital Transformation (CeDiT), University of Agder, Norway
Dominique Somda, Junior Research Fellow, HUMA – Institute for Humanities in Africa, University of Cape Town
Panel call for ASAA (African Studies Association of Africa) 4th Biennial Conference, 11-16 April 2022
Critical AI, Risk Assessment and the Future of the Human: Pan-African Perspectives
Vito Laterza (CeDiT, University of Agder, Norway)
Dominique Somda (HUMA, University of Cape Town)
African governments, corporations, INGOs and other stakeholders are keen to stress the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) in all fields of life. Some of these discourses focus on how Africa can achieve prosperity and development and overcome poverty, inequalities and conflict through AI, and avoid doom and gloom predictions that continue to stereotype the continent in negative terms.  
In this double panel, we want to critically engage with African AI narratives, starting from the acknowledgement that these are neither geographically exceptional nor historically unique; they often conjure previous dei ex machina utopian visions and echo various iterations of the always recurring ideas of progress and “modernity”. 
These optimistic narratives are complicated by a growing number of voices denouncing the potential for increased surveillance and commodification of private existences, and the use of algorithms in the social and political life of marginalised populations in Africa and the global South used as “testing grounds” before redeployment in the global North (e.g. AI in humanitarian settings and Cambridge Analytica-type experiments in digital propaganda). 
We want to explore the possibility of useful and beneficial AI applications in various domains in African contexts, by moving beyond a conception of ethics and risk assessment that appear as simple afterthoughts  to enthusiastic and futuristic reinventions of the continent via the salvific intervention of AI.
Under what conditions and in what circumstances, can AI applications be beneficial for African communities and societies? What are the theoretical, methodological and ethical principles that should drive risk assessment of AI? Should African people and states retain the right to say no to AI in specific domains and contexts? How can they exercise such agency? These are some of the questions we will explore in this panel.
We aim to tie these discussions closely to epistemological and empirical concerns about how AI shapes and is shaped by various forms and practices of African autonomy and humanity, and what kind of humans are produced and reproduced through such encounters. On a more practical level of political and civic engagement, we aim to keep this conversation grounded in feasible and applicable recommendations for governments, communities and social movements, so that they can design and implement effective forms of risk assessment and direct the multiple paths of AI development (or non-development) in their countries. These debates will contribute to develop the emerging global field of critical AI from a Pan-African perspective and in dialogue with insights and concerns from other parts of the world. 
We look for theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions focused on any region, country or area of Africa, from any discipline or interdisciplinary field within social sciences and humanities.
If you want to submit an abstract for this panel, please do so in the ASAA online system no later than Thursday 30 September 2021. You should click on “Submit abstract” in this webpage: There you also find the format guidelines – the abstract should be max 250 words.
You are also welcome to get in touch with us directly to discuss your contribution or for any other questions you might have. You can write to Vito Laterza (Associate Professor, Centre for Digital Transformation - CeDiT, University of Agder, Norway) and Dominique Somda (Junior Research Fellow, HUMA – Institute for the Humanities in Africa, University of Cape Town)