Kenyan IT experts demand rejection of flawed AI bill

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Kenyan information technology (IT) experts have urged the country’s parliament to reject the 2023 Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Society Bill, citing numerous shortcomings.

According to local media, the experts appeared before the National Assembly’s Communication, Information and Innovation Committee during a session to mark 2024’s International Safer Internet Day. The experts reportedly informed the committee that stakeholders in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics were not consulted during any phase of the drafting of the bill.

In the bill, entities are described as unlicensed if they have yet to register their robotics and AI ventures with the Robotics Society of Kenya (RSK).

Screenshot of Kenya’s Robotic and AI Society Bill. Source: DataGuidance

The proposed legislation aims to impose penalties, including fines of up to 1 million Kenyan shillings ($6,269), a potential two-year prison sentence, or both, on unlicensed entities involved in the operation of robotic and AI businesses if they do not register with the RSK.

The RSK is a proposed body that will oversee and support the growth of the robotics and AI sectors by creating rules and guidelines with other authorities. It will also ensure that companies follow these rules and advise the government on new trends in AI and robotics. 

Alex Gakuru, the director of the Center for Law in Information Technology and head of the American Chamber of Commerce, Kenya, reportedly stated in the meeting that the bill should be withdrawn for additional consultation with stakeholders, emphasizing that the bill will precipitate a national disaster if enacted in its current form.

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According to Gakuru, the bill doesn’t adequately address AI concerns but focuses primarily on regulating the robotics sector. According to the report, he expressed that the poorly drafted bill might face legal challenges unless amended.

Kenya has been ranked fifth in Africa for its readiness to implement AI in delivering services to the public. The 2022 edition of the annual Government AI Readiness Index released by Oxford Insights shows Kenya’s overall score of 40.36%, placing it behind Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia and Morocco.

Over the last decade, Kenya’s investment in AI is estimated to be 13 billion shillings ($81.5 million), which hardly compares with South Africa’s $1 billion investment and Nigeria’s $378 million, according to Microsoft’s “Artificial Intelligence in the Middle East and Africa Outlook Report.”

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