Artificial Intelligence and the Need for Data Fairness in the Global South

Medium blog by Yasodara Cordova: “…The data collected by industry represents AI opportunities for governments, to improve their services through innovation. Data-based intelligence promises to increase the efficiency of resource management by improving transparency, logistics, social welfare distribution — and virtually every government service. E-government enthusiasm took of with the realization of the possible applications, such as using AI to fight corruption by automating the fraud-tracking capabilities of cost-control tools. Controversially, the AI enthusiasm has spread to the distribution of social benefits, optimization of tax oversight and control, credit scoring systems, crime prediction systems, and other applications based in personal and sensitive data collection, especially in countries that do not have comprehensive privacy protections.

There are so many potential applications, society may operate very differently in ten years when the “datafixation” has advanced beyond citizen data and into other applications such as energy and natural resource management. However, many countries in the Global South are not being given necessary access to their countries’ own data.

Useful data are everywhere, but only some can take advantage. Beyond smartphones, data can be collected from IoT components in common spaces. Not restricted to urban spaces, data collection includes rural technology like sensors installed in tractors. However, even when the information is related to issues of public importance in developing countries —like data taken from road mesh or vital resources like water and land — it stays hidden under contract rules and public citizens cannot access, and therefore take benefit, from it. This arrangement keeps the public uninformed about their country’s operations. The data collection and distribution frameworks are not built towards healthy partnerships between industry and government preventing countries from realizing the potential outlined in the previous paragraph.

The data necessary to the development of better cities, public policies, and common interest cannot be leveraged if kept in closed silos, yet access often costs more than is justifiable. Data are a primordial resource to all stages of new technology, especially tech adoption and integration, so the necessary long term investment in innovation needs a common ground to start with. The mismatch between the pace of the data collection among big established companies and small, new, and local businesses will likely increase with time, assuming no regulation is introduced for equal access to collected data….

Currently, data independence remains restricted to discussions on the technological infrastructure that supports data extraction. Privacy discussions focus on personal data rather than the digital accumulation of strategic data in closed silos — a necessary discussion not yet addressed. The national interest of data is not being addressed in a framework of economic and social fairness. Access to data, from a policy-making standpoint, needs to find a balance between the extremes of public, open access and limited, commercial use.

A final, but important note: the vast majority of social media act like silos. APIs play an important role in corporate business models, where industry controls the data it collects without reward, let alone user transparency. Negotiation of the specification of APIs to make data a common resource should be considered, for such an effort may align with the citizens’ interest….(More)”.