AI Ethics Across Borders: Reflections on the Policy Debate

By: Nagham ElHoussamy

On the 14-15 May 2024, in the historic building of the Art & History Museum in Brussels, the Anna Lindh Foundation (ALF) hosted a multi-stakeholder public policy debate titled “AI Ethics Across Borders: Forging Intercultural Approaches in the Euro-Med Region.” With scholars, policy makers, and civil society stakeholders from across the Euro-Mediterranean region, the two-day debate was both informative and enriching, allowing for sharing experiences between the regions and across different countries. As Associate Director for Research at the Access to Knowledge for Development Center at AUC’s School of Business, which hosts the MENA Observatory on Responsible AI, it was an honor to participate and learn from this enriching debate. 

This public policy debate allowed for a critical discussion of multiple key issues, such as how the diverse Euro-Mediterranean region can collectively approach the possibilities, challenges, and risks of AI in order to make the best use of the technology. During the event, important questions were raised in that regard, such as: how many centers of jurisdiction do we want to help with AI regulation? In response, Stefano Dotto, Head of Sector, Regional Programs and Cooperation Unit, Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, DG NEAR, European Commission, articulated that “one single society cannot address these challenges… at a time when economies are interconnected and digitization is pervasive, it is an opportunity to share best practices on how to shape the future.” Dorian Karatzas, Head of Sector, Science Policy Advice and Ethics, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, DG RTD, European Commission, further added that while it is easy for the European commission to design policies and practices using a top-down approach, what is more challenging, but also of key importance, is how these translate into action on the ground. Allesandro Lamonica, Acting Manager of the Public Policies Unit at the ALF, also reiterated the importance of translating principles intro practice, while highlighting the importance of understanding the human context. 

I had the privilege of being one of the speakers on the panel “A critical review of Euro-Med AI Ethical Frameworks: Achievements and Challenges” along with Alessandro Mantelero, Associate Professor at the University of Torino and Golestan Radwan, Chief Digital Officer at UN Environment Programme. Moderated by Mihalis Kritikos, Policy Officer at the Science Policy Advice and Ethics, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, European Commission, the panel aimed to examine the policy frameworks that regulate the use and deployment of AI while considering whether new models are needed to reflect the diversity of the region. Prior to reflecting on how existing policy frameworks in the Euro-Mediterranean region aligned with or deviated from the ethical values and principles of its diverse cultures, it was important to first stress on the diversity of the region, especially when it comes to socioeconomic variations and cultural differences. As eloquently explained by Raja Chatila, Professor Emeritus of Robotics, AI and Ethics at the Sorbonne University in Paris, ethics is about resolving tensions between values, and these tensions between values differ amongst different groups of people. Thus, the ethical issues being raised by the use and deployment of AI are context-specific and emerge depending on the stakeholders involved. 

Additionally, the extent to which national AI policies address ethical issues is often pre-dependent on the vision for the use of AI that is being promoted by policymakers. Needless to say, each country has a unique set of national priorities. Thus, it is important for AI policy frameworks to be inclusive, and to be drafted in a multi-stakeholder setting. In 2019, Egypt established an Artificial Intelligence Council and National AI Strategy and, more recently, launched the “Egyptian Charter for Responsible AI.” This charter represents one of the first efforts in the Middle East region to develop a framework for AI governance and ethics principles. As an academic and member of civil society, A2K4D Founding Director Dr. Nagla Rizk was a main contributor to Egypt’s 2021 National Artificial Intelligence Strategy and member of the Technical Secretariat of Egypt’s National Council for Artificial Intelligence. Dr. Rizk also pushed for the inclusion of entrepreneurs in the drafting process, thus ensuring considerations across a wide-array of stakeholders are taken into account in the policy drafting process. Stakeholder and public engagement is essential in the formation of revised AI strategies and policies. While governments take into consideration national priorities, multi-stakeholder engagement assures all voices of the community are heard and taken into consideration. 

Lack of awareness of AI policies and the implications of AI is also a prominent challenge, especially in countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. While some countries have AI strategies, there is a dire need for awareness raising on all levels, and more bottom-up collaborative approaches in policy-making endeavors. Realizing this, we at A2K4D established and launched the MENA Observatory on Responsible AI in February 2024. The Observatory is a dynamic, inclusive and locally-driven platform on responsible AI in MENA serving as a catalyst for change by being a tool for policy making, a hub for connecting stakeholders and communities and the go-to home for knowledge on responsible AI as it pertains to everyone’s lives. The Observatory aims to achieve the following: to inform, influence and monitor policy making as it pertains to responsible AI for development and inclusion in MENA; to promote a grounds-up approach that emphasizes local experiences, community engagement, and inclusion in all aspects of data collection and AI systems development, and to raise awareness and fill gaps in knowledge on the responsible use of data and AI in a way that is in line with the nuances of the region; to connect communities – researchers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, civil society, educators and beneficiaries, by creating dynamic collaborative spaces that foster engagement between the different stakeholders to promote policy making that fulfills the promise of responsible AI for development; and to champion MENA voices, values, and standards in responsible data and AI governance, regionally and globally and share experiences accordingly. A2K4D hopes the MENA Observatory on Responsible AI can serve as a tool for building bridges between different communities and reaching common ground on issues related to the responsible use and deployment of AI. 


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