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Masterclass With AI Philosopher at Synapse Analytics Aliah Yacoub

In this week’s Masterclass, Aliah Yacoub shares her views on how startups can lead in ethical and responsible AI.

May El Habachi

Masterclass With AI Philosopher at Synapse Analytics Aliah Yacoub

StartupScene’s op-ed series ‘Masterclass’ invites some of the region’s most dynamic entrepreneurs and experts to divulge their secrets, dispense their knowledge, and share their experiences with the MENA region’s ever-growing startup ecosystem. Whether they’re written by old guards or trailblazers, these masterclasses have been created to illuminate the path for aspiring entrepreneurs.

This month’s Masterclass contributor is Aliah Yacoub, AI Philosopher at Synapse Analytics, an AI and data science company that helps organizations manage and monetize their data. Yacoub shares her views on the importance of using AI ethically, and the role that startups can play in this landscape.

As we stand on the precipice of unprecedented AI deployment in Egypt, the need to weave ethical principles into the very fabric of AI has never been more pressing. Unrealistic fears of robot overlords aside, the unchecked proliferation of AI into our everyday lives poses risks in the form of algorithmic biases, privacy infringements, and an exacerbation of systemic inequalities in vulnerable or marginalized communities, to name a few socio-ethical challenges.

However, ensuring that AI is developed and deployed in accordance with values of human rights, transparency, and accountability is not without its challenges. Among other things, it hinges on the creation of robust regulatory frameworks that are aligned with global AI regulatory mechanisms but tailored to the local legal, technological and cultural setting.

That said, the idea that countries can swiftly create adequate regulatory frameworks at the same pace that the technology advances or, more importantly, at the same pace as each other, has proven challenging. That is why it is important to proactively address ethical concerns such as bias, privacy infringements, and societal impacts of AI technologies from their inception and throughout the entire AI lifecycle – not just as an afterthought when the problems stack up, or as an obligation when the laws catch up.

Fortunately, amidst this pursuit of Ethical AI, startups may emerge as pivotal actors. Today, startups occupy a unique position, especially within our local context, wielding significant influence in fostering responsible AI practices in alignment with the principles outlined in various AI acts and charters worldwide, including the Egyptian Charter for Responsible AI.

COLLABORATION

AI has become an increasingly interdisciplinary field, requiring the ‘coming together’ of technologists, policymakers, engineers, ethicists, and cognitive scientists to name a few. As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise an AI’, and startups are key players in this project. Through interdisciplinary collaboration, startups can orchestrate synergy among stakeholders, including government entities and civil society, and foster open dialogue and cooperation, ensuring that ethical considerations are integrated into every stage of AI development and deployment.

ARABIC LANGUAGE MODELS

One significant advantage that startups bring to the ‘responsible AI’ table is their access to Arabic language data. Leveraging this resource, startups can mitigate biases and develop culturally-sensitive AI systems and Large Language Models (LLMs). With a rich pool of Arabic language data, Egyptian startups, in particular, can train AI systems that accurately capture linguistic nuances (dialect AND vernacular!) and cultural sensitivities inherent to the region. This approach ensures that AI technologies are inclusive and reflective of the diverse communities they serve, thereby promoting greater equity and equality in the digital sphere.

FEMALE REPRESENTATION  

Moreover, startups have the opportunity to address gender disparities in the AI sector by implementing corrective measures to enhance women's representation across the entire AI pipeline. The fact that women are underrepresented in every stage of AI production, from the conceptual to the technical, is a problem for datasets, organizations, and the whole of society. By employing feminist epistemologies in the conceptual framework guiding AI research and development, startups can strive for gender diversity and inclusion, thereby enriching the development process and enhancing the societal impact of AI technologies.

After all, as harbingers of new technologies, startups are very uniquely positioned to embed ethical principles into emerging AI innovations from their inception. By integrating ethical considerations into the design and development phase, startups can proactively address potential risks and ensure that AI technologies align with ethical values and societal norms.

DIGITAL INCLUSION 

Perhaps more importantly, startups can play a crucial role in democratizing access to AI technologies and fostering digital inclusion within the MENA region. By prioritizing accessibility and focusing on vulnerable and/or marginalized communities, startups can ensure the equitable distribution of AI resources and empower individuals from all backgrounds to harness the benefits of AI-driven innovations. This emphasis on accessibility is instrumental in ensuring that individuals from all walks of life are provided with the skills and tools needed to participate meaningfully in the digital economy.

Access is, of course, part of a multifaceted approach that includes education. There can be no real realization of ethical AI if the stakeholders are not educated on the workings as well as socio-ethical implications of AI. In that sense, bridging the AI literacy gap has never been more pressing. Startups can facilitate education and awareness initiatives to promote understanding of ethical AI principles among developers, users and policymakers. By offering resources such as digital literacy programs, workshops and educational materials, startups can raise awareness about the ethical implications of AI technologies.

This is especially important in typically underserved communities. There should be a concerted effort from startups and governments in the form of collaborations to develop a roadmap for AI capacity building. This can include vocational training programs, basic AI awareness modules, tax incentives for businesses that provide AI-related skills training, and partnerships with educational institutions and private sector stakeholders.

In conclusion, as Egypt prepares to embrace widespread AI integration, startups play an increasingly important role in ensuring that AI technologies are not only technically proficient but also socially and ethically sound. Startups are uniquely positioned to assist in navigating the ethical challenges of AI by prioritizing interdisciplinary collaboration and access, promoting diversity, and spearheading education initiatives.

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