Using artificial intelligence in the fight against coronavirus: the experience of Senegal and Mali

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My name is Céline Castets-Renard, I am a professor in the Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section, at the University of Ottawa and holder of the Chair in Global AI Research.

I am currently involved in a research project that is funded by IDRC and SIDA, which concerns Senegal and Mali. The objectives of this research project are to understand the impact of the pandemic on populations and to see if artificial intelligence can be an aid or, on the contrary, something that could ultimately hinder a good understanding of the evolution of the pandemic.

And so we are going to work with the UCAD, the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal, and with the CERCAD, which is an agency devoted development and study for mali in bamako.

In Senegal we have a team of socio-anthropologists, an ethicist and an epidemiologist. In Mali, we have socio-anthropologists and a data scientist and in Ottawa we have a researcher in data science, and I conduct research studies for the legal aspect and to see whether the right to personal data in Senegal and Mali is sufficient to take into account the challenges of AI.

And so the idea is to better understand the point of view of the South and how to rethink responsible AI in Africa. With a better understanding of the terrain, we hope to improve the knowledge of decision-makers and improve public decision making in relation to the pandemic.

We know that the collective, the group does not have the same weight, does not have the same impact in Africa and in the North where there is a more individualistic vision. So perhaps this can bring out different principles to lead to an ethical and responsible AI that would perhaps be more global and not simply to think in the northern forums or in international forums dominated by northern countries.

The countries of the global South regularly use predictive models to trace evolution of COVID-19, adopting public policies and control measures based on artificial intelligence technologies or data science imported from the North (contact tracing applications, triage of patients). In Senegal and Mali, their use generates ethical, socio-political, cultural and legal issues, in addition to having significant socio-economic impacts on local populations.

In this first capsule in a series on the use of AI in the fight against coronavirus in these two African countries, Professor Céline Castets-Renard presents the research project that she is leading in the field in collaboration with a large, multidisciplinary team.

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