Decolonizing the Global South: Latin America needs a strategy for AI

By Grant R. Vousden-Dishington | A spotlight on a Sprint for Internet Health project

Graphic by Disa Kauk

Recent media reports and investigations are replete with examples of artificial intelligence (AI) being misused to the detriment of vulnerable populations of users, but few pieces exist that examine the current or potential impacts of AI internationally. The promises and threats of advanced machine decision-making are so great that official policies on how AI should be handled, developed, and deployed are becoming common topics of discussion, beyond the tech hubs of the world where much of research takes place. The open project “Decolonizing the Global South: Latin America needs a strategy” aims to make sure these transformative technologies benefit society by enlisting a new generation of AI leaders from the open web.

I interviewed Ana Carolina Rodrigues and Victor Prata to learn more about “Decolonizing the Global South,” what it means for AI in Latin America, and how you can contribute to the work.

Ana: This is a project that intends to create a community of young Latin Americans willing to discuss strategies for the development of Artificial Intelligence in the countries of our region. The idea is to gather these young people to discuss the impacts of this technology on the economy and society as a whole.

And why do we use the term “decolonizing”? Because we believe it is important to develop autonomous thinking about these issues, considering the reality and diversity of Latin America.

Cognitive computing is ushering us into a new digital economy era and some countries are creating strategies to become leaders of that economy. However, many of these strategies are based on a military logic, which is a risk to an open and healthy internet. We believe it is important to develop a human-centric strategy, based on ethical values ​​and on interoperable standards that allows cooperation between the ecosystems of each country of our region.

Victor: This project was started when Ana and I were in the Youth@IGF2018 Program promoted by Internet Society (ISOC). We had to develop a final project to complete the course ‘’Shaping the Internet — History and Futures’’. We began to think about how the reality of Brazil and Latin countries were different from the history of the internet told there. In this program we were in the group of Spanish speakers (all from Latin America) called ‘’Notre Dame Team’’ and we started to exchange experiences with those colleagues and share the same feelings and concerns about the internet.

We had the impression that the story told there (conceived in developed countries) was far removed from our reality. For example, while the US was discussing network neutrality, in Latin America we are still talking about bringing internet access to all people.

Ana: Actually, we discovered in this ISOC course that there are countries in the region in which the digital divide is around 80%, that is to say 80% of the population does not have regular access to the internet!

In addition to what Victor said, we figured out that there was just a little integration among Latin American countries in the construction of internet governance policies. We perceive this as a problem, since even though the internet should be structured from a global perspective, it is important to design policies that relate to regional reality, enabling cooperation to expand and improve infrastructure and to develop a legal framework better and more uniform.

Victor: Most countries in Latin America are still a long way from the developed countries when we talk about technology. This is due to a historical process since colonization and also to problems of social and economic development. These factors make the development of technology more difficult, but do not prevent large projects from being developed in Latin America. With few resources, but with collaboration and a lot of will, it is possible to make a big impact.

There is definitely no parity between US, Canada or Europe and Latin America. Many communities in Latin America still do not have internet or roaming.

Based on studies on the subject, we find that the economies of developed countries are organizing to compete in AI because new markets are being created.

Through an open-source project, such people from emerging countries can train and develop AI projects and contribute to the social and economic development of their countries, mainly but not exclusively in Latin America. We believe that cultural differences will be important for creativity and for AI projects to meet the needs of the populations of these emerging countries. The AI ​​can be used to help solve problems such as optimization of resources, safety and health.

Victor: We face problems such as difficulty with the language. Most articles, materials, and courses on technology are still produced in English.

For speakers of Portuguese and Spanish (most spoken languages ​​in Latin America) this can be a problem for accessibility because these people often do not speak English or do not understand technical English.

So this project will be fully translated into Portuguese and Spanish with the help of the participants.

Latin America is also very vast and diverse, there is a very great diversity of cultures. This is not a problem in itself, but it can be a problem to think of a strategy that is good for all these people.

Ana: You just need to be interested in discussing these issues with us! We wish to attract young people from different countries and with different backgrounds.

In addition to your interest and willingness to share your energy and knowledge to help develop this project, some experiences are also desirable: in content curation; in edition of content (graphic arts and videos); in translation of contents (for Portuguese, Spanish and Native Languages); in social media management etc. And, of course, memes creators are most welcome!

We created a form for those interested in contributing to register. You can access it by clicking here.

Ana: Other people can help by sharing our content! We also intends to associate with other projects and organizations to reach more people. We already have the support of the Youth Observatory (Youth SIG of ISOC), and the Legal Hackers and Global Shapers (Sao Paulo Hub) Communities.

We created a page to focus information about the project. We will update it with news soon!

Ana: The program taught us a lot about community building and project management. Personally, I am trying to incorporate what I have learned into other spaces of which I am part, such as the SP Legal Hackers.

The cohorts and conversations with our mentor, Cynthia Orozco, helped us a lot in the design of the project. We made several changes to our initial idea.

Furthermore, the OL is a network of incredible people, with fantastic projects and always willing to help. Besides Cynthia, Maha Bali and Daniela Saderi helped us a lot!

We seek projects from previous editions, such as PREreview (of which Daniela is part) as a reference of how we could develop our idea and create our community.


Join us wherever you are during the month of May at Mozilla’s Sprint for Internet Health to work on many amazing open projects! Join a diverse network of scientists, educators, artists, engineers and others in person and online to hack and build projects for a health Internet.

This post by Grant R. Vousden-Dishington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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