College of Law and
Management Studies

Grant for AI, Healthcare and the Law

Professor Donrich Thaldar of the UKZN School of Law is one of eight beneficiaries in Africa of a US$200 000 research grant from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Facebook.

In an effort to support interdisciplinary independent academic research across Africa in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), ethics and human rights, the HSRC in partnership with Facebook earlier this year invited proposals from individual researchers and groups of researchers at academic institutions, think tanks, and research organisations registered and operational in Africa.

Commenting on the grant, Thaldar, a health law expert, said: ‘AI has the potential to improve healthcare, but also entails some ethical and legal concerns. With this grant my research team and I will develop practical, solution-driven recommendations that can be implemented within a South African context.’

Thaldar’s proposal on AI in healthcare in South Africa underwent a rigorous evaluation process by a seven-person advisory board comprising: Dr Noberto Andrade of Facebook, Dr Buhle Khanyile of the HSRC, Ms Titi Akinsanmi of Google, Dr Ololade Shyllon of Facebook, Dr Wairagala Wakabi of The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), Professor Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem of the University of Pretoria, and Dr Rachel Adams of the HSRC.

According to Adams, the successful proposals demonstrated innovative and compelling research with tangible recommendations that have the potential to significantly impact fairness, transparency and diversity of AI and ethics/human rights, along with innovative governance approaches to AI in Africa.

‘AI is having, and is set to have, huge impacts on the African region,’ said Adams. ‘We are delighted to be supporting such important interdisciplinary work that will generate new knowledge around what AI means for human rights and ethics in our African context,’ said Adams.

The advisory board expects the research work to be carried out by the beneficiaries in Ethiopia, Kenya (two projects), Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Egypt, Uganda and South Africa (represented by Thaldar) to make great strides in responding to the complex questions regarding ethics and social impact which have arisen from the growing reliance on AI systems in Africa.

Shyllon, who is responsible for Facebook’s Privacy Policy in the Middle East and Africa, said: ‘Facebook believes in the value of localised and innovative research to help shape the design and governance of AI in accordance with ethics and human rights. That is why we are delighted to support independent African research to reinvigorate current academic discourse on what AI, ethics and human rights can and should mean for Africa and globally.’

Delighted about the generous grant, the Dean and Head of the UKZN School of Law, Professor Managay Reddi congratulated Thaldar saying: ‘Professor Thaldar is fast emerging as a leading researcher in South Africa in the field of health law and ethics. The generous award he and his team have received from the HRSC and Facebook bears testimony to this as Donrich is the only South African recipient of this prestigious grant. I am very proud of the work that Donrich and his team are doing and I am confident that the recommendations that will emerge from the research project will be a useful blueprint in the drive to improve our health systems.’

Words: Hazel Langa

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