Table Of Contents

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.

Executive Summary

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the world faster than the world can mitigate intensifying geopolitical divisions and socio-economic disparities. As technological change outpaces regulatory policy, no common platform has yet emerged to coordinate a variety of governance approaches across multiple national contexts. The concerns and interests of the citizens and civil society of the Global South – broadly, the post-colonial nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and the Asia-Pacific – must be prioritised by policy makers to reverse increasing fragmentation in the governance of algorithmic platforms and AI-powered systems worldwide. Particular attention must be given to the varied ways in which national governments and transnational corporations deploy such systems to monitor, manage, and manipulate civic-public spaces across the Global South.

The Global South represents a major source of the human-generated data and, indeed, the very raw materials upon which complex computing networks and AI systems rely. It therefore follows that the societies of the Global South are entitled to both equitable economic benefits and meaningful protections from powerful platforms and tools largely controlled by corporations based in the Global North and the great powers, particularly the United States (US) and the People’s Republic of China, but also the European Union (EU). This equity must be predicated upon what we define as an ‘AI constitutionalism’ that approaches AI and big data as fundamental resources within the modern economy akin to electricity and water, essential components for economic and social development in the 21st century.

Redirecting ongoing AI ethics discussions toward a rights-based paradigm with concrete principles for policy across national contexts offers the best prospect for an international governance framework that places the interests of Global South on equal footing with those of the great powers. Informed by discussions within a 21-member expert working group convened regularly by Initiate: Digital Rights in Society and the Paris Peace Forum through the second half of 2021, this paper proposes that AI constitutionalism and a rights-based approach should guide the development of high-level international protocols and conventions that will set policymaking standards for AI’s development and deployment, worldwide.

Special protections must be developed, whether at an international level or by national governments, to safeguard civic-public spaces across the Global South and outline best practices for assessing the potential impacts of AI-based services before their deployment. More generally, international norms and agreements must be established to ensure the equitable distribution of the benefits of AI-powered platforms and algorithmic systems, avoiding locking Southern countries into loops of dependency. A ‘fair value distribution’ regime between the Global South and the rising AI powers must be pursued and achieved.