BRICS bloc commits to secure, equitable artificial intelligence

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 25 Aug 2023
This week, South Africa hosted the annual summit of the BRICS bloc of emerging economies.
This week, South Africa hosted the annual summit of the BRICS bloc of emerging economies.

The BRICS bloc of countries has set its sights on creating an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Study Group.

This was revealed by Chinese president Xi Jinping during the just-ended 15th Summit of Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa (BRICS Summit).

South Africa hosted the annual summit of the BRICS bloc of emerging economies from 22 to 24 August.

In a speech, the Chinese leader said AI is a new area of development.

Many nations are racing to achieve a global innovation advantage in AI because they understand it is a foundational technology that can boost competitiveness, increase productivity, protect national security and help solve societal challenges.

“BRICS countries have agreed to launch the AI Study Group of the BRICS Institute of Future Networks at an early date,” said Xi.

The BRICS Institute of Future Networks was established in 2016 and seeks to promote the practical cooperation of member states in the field of ICT.

“We need to enable the study group to play its full role, further expand cooperation on AI, and step-up information exchange and technological cooperation. We need to jointly fend off risks, and develop AI governance frameworks and standards with broad-based consensus, so as to make AI technologies more secure, reliable, controllable and equitable,” he added.

“We should increase people-to-people exchanges and promote mutual learning between civilisations. There are many civilisations and development paths in the world, and this is how the world should be. Human history will not end with a particular civilisation or system.”

Xi’s comments come amid a fierce AI race between the US and China. AI investments in the US surpass China’s, totalling $26.6 billion (R495 billion) in the year to mid-June, versus China’s $4 billion (R74.5 billion), according to consultancy firm Preqin.

The Centre for Data Innovation recently issued a report comparing China, the European Union and the US in terms of their relative standing in the AI economy by examining six categories of metrics: talent, research, development, adoption, data and hardware.

According to the report, despite China’s bold AI initiative, the US still leads in absolute terms. China comes in second, and the European Union lags further behind.

The Centre for Data Innovation recently said this order could change in coming years, as China appears to be making more rapid progress than the US and European Union.

“Nonetheless, when controlling for the size of the labour force in the three regions, the current US lead becomes even larger, while China drops to third place, behind the European Union,” says the report.

Earlier this week, South Africa and the People’s Republic of China agreed to deepen their bilateral cooperation in areas such as training and digital technologies.

This isn’t the first time China has committed to strengthening SA’s technology development landscape. During Xi’s 2018 state visit to SA, the Asian country made a $14.7 billion investment commitment to the South African economy, saying a portion will go towards the science and technology sector.

Ahead of the summit, president Cyril Ramaphosa held bilateral talks with Xi during his fourth state visit to South Africa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted president Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China. (Image source: Presidency)
President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted president Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China. (Image source: Presidency)

Meanwhile, as leaders from BRICS nations concluded their annual summit, consultancy firm Accenture says the issue of collaborative technological use has become increasingly important.

In a world reliant on digital innovation, it notes, these nations have a unique opportunity to harness the transformative power of technology, bringing about meaningful societal change and progress.

Vukani Mngxati, CEO of Accenture in Africa, states: “Across Africa and the world, the profound influence of digital solutions is undeniable. However, we often see a disjointed approach to their adoption. This is where BRICS, with its melting pot of cultures and shared challenges, can spearhead a cohesive digital movement.”

Drawing attention to shared challenges, including infrastructure development, healthcare, education and climate change, Mngxati emphasises the growing need for collaborative strategies.

“Each BRICS nation has its own economic identity, but technology transcends borders. An innovation that works in one country can easily be tailored and amplified in another.”