Article by Abeba Birhane. Published in Scripted: A Journal of Law, Technology & Society.
We live in a world where technological corporations hold unprecedented power and influence. Technological solutions to social, political, and economic challenges are rampant. In the Global South, technology that is developed with Western perspectives, values, and interests is imported with little regulation or critical scrutiny. This work examines how Western tech monopolies, with their desire to dominate, control and influence social, political, and cultural discourse, share common characteristics with traditional colonialism. However, while traditional colonialism is driven by political and government forces, algorithmic colonialism is driven by corporate agendas. While the former used brute force domination, colonialism in the age of AI takes the form of ‘state-of-the-art algorithms’ and ‘AI driven solutions’ to social problems. Not only is Western-developed AI unfit for African problems, the West’s algorithmic invasion simultaneously impoverishes development of local products while also leaving the continent dependent on Western software and infrastructure. By drawing examples from various parts of the continent, this paper illustrates how the AI invasion of Africa echoes colonial era exploitation. This paper then concludes by outlining a vision of AI rooted in local community needs and interests.