May 29, 2024
Kenyan Government Under Fire for Controversial AI and Robotics Bill
AI

Kenyan Government Under Fire for Controversial AI and Robotics Bill

Kenya’s information technology (IT) community has raised objections against the 2023 Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Society Bill, urging the country’s parliament to reconsider its adoption due to perceived shortcomings.

During a session convened by the National Assembly’s Communication, Information, and Innovation Committee to commemorate International Safer Internet Day in 2024, stakeholders in the artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics sectors expressed dismay over their exclusion from the bill’s drafting process.

The proposed legislation defines entities as unlicensed if they have not registered their robotics and AI ventures with the Robotics Society of Kenya (RSK). Penalties outlined in the bill include fines of up to one million Kenyan shillings ($6,269), a potential two-year prison sentence, or both, for unlicensed entities operating in the robotics and AI industries.

The RSK, envisioned as a regulatory body, aims to supervise and promote the development of Kenya’s robotics and AI sectors. Its responsibilities include collaborating with relevant authorities to establish regulatory frameworks and guidelines, ensuring adherence to standards among companies, and providing advisory services to the government on emerging trends in AI and robotics.

Alex Gakuru, director of the Center for Law in Information Technology and head of the American Chamber of Commerce, Kenya, voiced concerns during the meeting, advocating for the bill’s withdrawal for further consultation with stakeholders. Gakuru emphasized that its enactment in its current form could lead to a national disaster.

Gakuru pointed out that the bill disproportionately focuses on regulating the robotics sector rather than adequately addressing broader AI concerns. He cautioned that the poorly drafted legislation might face legal challenges unless amended to address stakeholders’ feedback.

Despite Kenya’s recognition as the fifth-ranked African country in terms of readiness to implement AI for public service delivery, concerns persist over the bill’s implications for the country’s technological advancement. The annual Government AI Readiness Index, released by Oxford Insights in 2022, ranked Kenya behind Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, and Morocco, with an overall score of 40.36%.

Microsoft’s “Artificial Intelligence in the Middle East and Africa Outlook Report” highlighted Kenya’s comparatively modest investment in AI, totalling an estimated 13 billion shillings ($81.5 million) over the last decade. This figure parallels South Africa’s $1 billion investment and Nigeria’s $378 million.

As debates surrounding the Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Society Bill continue, stakeholders advocate for a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to regulation that fosters innovation while addressing legitimate concerns within Kenya’s burgeoning technology sector.

Image by Commonwealth Secretariat on Flickr

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