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How ChatGPT Emergence Exposes Africa to Greater AI Risks

The excitement around ChatGPT remains a watershed moment for Artificial Intelligence (AI) with millions of users globally now in a position to witness its mind-boggling capabilities first-hand.

It has enabled users to experiment with AI, making them aware how far technology has come but poses greater risks of under-representation in Africa in the field of AI.

ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer) is OpenAI’s conversational chatbot that has revolutionised AI technology to help users search for long-form question-answers.

“We’ve trained a model called ChatGPT which interacts in a conversational way. The dialogue format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer follow-up questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests,” according to OpenAI on its website.

Understanding ChatGPT

ChatGPT is a sibling model to InstructGPT, which follows an instruction in a prompt and provides a detailed response.

Its release in the market on November 30, 2022 set off the alarm bells at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, as the company’s management viewed the nascent technology as a serious threat to its core search business.

OpenAI is the company behind ChatGPT, and is working closely with Microsoft, one of Google’s last remaining competitors in the search engine market.

This, however, speaks less of how progressive Africa as a continent is getting in relation to machine learning or AI technology.

Even though its meteoric rise simplifies human life research, the under-representation of Africa has significant implications for the continent.

“With limited training data matching African cultural and economic realities, the output of ChatGPT is likely to be skewed toward reinforcing Western cultural and ideological hegemony – because that’s all it has learned,” says African Business – an online publication.

This is because texts from developed countries are heavily represented in the training datasets, with only a small number coming from Africa.

AI Opportunities for Africa

Out of 54 African countries, it is only Egypt whose dataset works with machine learning according to Internet Health Report 2022 Journal.

“In Africa, many of these decisions are based on data and algorithms that have no relevance to our reality,” says Justin Arenstein, the CEO of Code for Africa, a network of civic tech and open data labs.

Nigeria, Africa’s tech giant, imports nearly 90 percent of all its software needs. The country’s tech startups attracted $1.2 billion of funding in 2022 alone but the question remains if the country can have meaningful digital sovereignty.

“The West’s algorithmic invasion simultaneously impoverishes development of local products while also leaving the continent dependent on its software and infrastructure,” said Ethiopian cognitive scientist Abeba Birhane.

ChatGPT got one million users just five days after launch and is currently serving over 100 million users, according to Reuters.

ChatGPT Limitations 

What’s more, tech giants around the world are downsizing, with over 75,000 employees facing the axe.

However, NeevaAI experts have poked holes into ChatGPT citing a number of limitations in simplifying human interaction.

“It’s not really in the business of creating a fictional kind of world, which to a certain extent ChatGPT is when it comes to things that it doesn’t know [because] it makes things up,” says Neeva co-founder Sridhar Ramaswamy as reported by Forbes Australia.