AFD Group Event: “AI For Sustainable And Inclusive Futures”

Expertise France, AFD and the EU Commission are stimulating international dialogue on AI, innovation and digital technology with a major day of debates between experts from over 20 countries on the challenges and opportunities of artificial intelligence in the world.

Expertise France with the AFD and in partnership with the EU’s  D4D Hub. has orchestrated a prolific day of exchange and debate at the Campus Cyber in La Défense on March 26. This premier event, entitled “AI for sustainable and inclusive futures”, brought together  political leaders, renowned researchers, as well as key players from the private sector and start-ups  from around the world. As an active member of the D4D Hub, France has taken the initiative to host this event as a continuation of a previous gathering organized in Brussels by Enabel and ESTDEV in  February 22, 2024. 

Under the voice of its Director General Jérémie Pellet, who took the floor to introduce the day,  Expertise France, in synergy with its international partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America,  committed to promoting a multidisciplinary and inclusive approach and to co-constructing new forms  of solidarity around AI, reflecting a shared commitment to harnessing the potential of AI for  sustainable development in an ethical, responsible and human-centered way : “AI has opened up a  new field in the digital world, at the service of creation and innovation. The Group is now committed  to supporting its partner countries in strengthening their data infrastructures and providing funding,  and to amplifying the voices of women, and civil society, in international dialogue”. 

In a context where artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming many sectors such as healthcare,  education and agriculture, while raising ethical and technical challenges on a global scale, this day  was of crucial importance in recalling the European Union’s commitment to developing multi stakeholder collaborations around AI, as well as to adopt an approach of mutual learning with its  partners, opening up new perspectives through Global Gateway programs. 

“AI is no longer an abstract concept, it’s already here, reshaping the world by bringing economic  opportunities in agriculture or construction, for example. It is beneficial for citizens, businesses and  the public interest, but can still amplify certain forms of discrimination, and play on prejudices. The EU  has adopted a human-centered approach to AI with the D4D Hub, and is keeping this component in  mind in the development of AI and in the construction of its limits”, said Carla Montesi, Director  general of the European Commission’s Directorate general for international partnerships. 

The day featured a series of plenaries, workshops, interactive sessions and inspiring speeches,  designed to create a shared understanding of the AI for development landscape, explore partnership  opportunities and address the multifaceted challenges posed by AI technologies.  

In this respect, Lacina Koné, CEO of Smart Africa, was able in particular to address African ambitions  in terms of AI, and express the needs and expectations of certain players on the continent to move  towards better cooperation with Europe and other regions of the world: “In Africa, it’s not a question  of replacing jobs, but of creating them, and that’s the role of AI. Africa needs harmonized policies at  all levels: NGOs, civil society and governments. We need to rethink the way in which digital transformations are implemented within the very workings of government mechanisms and for  greater inclusion of each national particularism, in addition to continuity with the private sector for  sustainable AI. Smart Africa contributes to this challenge and dialogue”. 

The strategic discussions combined high-level political dialogue with practical examples in the field,  and the presentation of innovative solutions. This approach guarantees an in-depth exploration of  the transformative potential of AI and its effects on society, as exemplified by the project of Charles  Dzadu, director of Makifaa, an image bank showcasing the African digital media industry by infusing  new vision through AI and the generation of graphic and artistic content: “Makifaa offers the  opportunity to share AI’s creative work with photographers and communications agencies in Africa,  who lack databases and images. We now have over 35 contributors from 5 different countries, and  are refining our AI model with expert partners”. 

The event was also an opportunity to revisit the best practices and challenges of the digital  commons, in particular open data and open source models to encourage the involvement of local  communities and citizens in the appropriation of data and technology. This approach aims to ensure  equitable access to the benefits of AI and mitigate the risks associated with biased or flawed AI  applications, along the lines of the East West Management Institute’s Open Development Initiative  scheme led by Pyrou Chung in Southeast Asia: “AI won’t reflect the reality and lots of people will be  left behind without the social changes the world needs and that we have to address first. It’s through  open source that we can combat these inequalities, by working together and sharing technological  advances”. 

At the end of the day’s proceedings, Séverine Peters-Desteract, Director of Expertise France’s  Sustainable and Inclusive Economy Department, and Lacina Koné, Managing Director of Smart Africa,  proudly announced their collaboration through the signing of a letter of intent for the creation of the  AI Advisory Group, an initiative with the aim of promoting the ethical and inclusive use of artificial  intelligence for sustainable development. This partnership, which aims to ensure the alignment of AI  initiatives with realities and challenges on the ground, relying on local technology ecosystem players  to amplify their impact, marks Smart Africa’s entry as the first member of this ambitious project,  before its extension to other organizations in the Global South. 

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