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Beyond the North-South Fork on the Road to AI Governance:

An Action Plan for Democratic & Distributive Integrity*

* Acknowledging that the categories of South and North are not watertight, this paper argues for situating geopolitical and geo-economic power within the history of post-colonial development.


With AI’s decisive role in determining pathways to economic prosperity and development, and an evident and growing AI divide, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need to redefine the AI governance debate. There has been much discussion on the ‘AI divide’ between the Global North and South. The appeals for appropriate application of AI for social transformation and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), thus hinges on the prospect of tackling global inequality in the AI paradigm.

We argue that a global governance framework for AI cannot sidestep the political economy of data and AI’s emerging role in the world economic order. ‘AI for good’ should be about distributing the gains of the AI paradigm equitably to encourage locally embedded development innovations, not merely the unidirectional sharing of knowledge and innovation from the Global North to the South. In the context of international development, the ownership and distribution of AI-powered technologies and relevant data must not be allowed to generate loops of dependency between Southern countries and the now dominant powers in the space: China, the US, and, to some degree, the EU. The terms of AI’s distribution and benefits must be favourable to the Global South. By highlighting the convergences and divergences that mark the political field in the AI governance debate, we aim to draw attention to elements of a new agenda for progressive actors in civil society – activists, scholars, technologists – grounded in the notion of ‘AI for fair value’.

The objective of this paper is to identify the normative directions and core principles needed to address the policy fragmentation in the AI governance paradigm and ground a South-centric vision for the future. The specific nuts and bolts of such an international regime can only be worked out through dialogue and debate – which, as the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society has outlined – needs to be based on enhanced cooperation among governments, in consultation with all stakeholders (WSIS Executive Secretariat, 2006). That said, the working group recommends several key actions that incorporate the interests and concerns of Global South countries, as discussed below.