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Gianluca Iazzolino (University of Manchester)

21 March 2023 @ 12:30 - 13:30


  • Past event


21 March 2023
12:30 - 13:30
Event Category:
Academic Events

Depoliticization through datafication. The corporate capture of AI for development in Africa

at Campus Luigi Einaudi – room 3D440

Abstract. My paper explores how the growing emphasis placed by international development agencies and donors on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and, more broadly, data-driven development, is reshaping the ‘technopolitics of development’, entailing the risk of entrenching asymmetric power relations between corporate and public actors and obfuscating accountability mechanisms. I build upon, and contribute to, the debate on the corporate hegemonic influence over the significance of AI and Big Data for advancing the SDGs. We argue that digital corporate giants are attempting to leverage datafication and AI to entrench their power in the development agenda, repackaging their approach as AI for Social Good (AI4SG) or the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and blurring the line between business and development. In articulating my argument, I rely on interviews with donors, policymakers, humanitarian practitioners, private sector representatives and tech firm executives between 2017 and 2022. I focus on the recent proliferation of data-driven and AI-based initiatives across Africa and identify three trends revealing the problematic depoliticisation of the discussion on AI4SG: the corporate attempts to reshape national and humanitarian policy spaces; the private datafication of public infrastructures; and the opacity of predictive models developed and owned by social media and tech companies. Together, these transformations represent a significant shift in public-private partnerships in development.