AI-ready nations in danger of entrenching inequality

A report from Oxford Insights and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has assessed countries on the basis of their AI readiness and responsibility and found that some are at risk of furthering inequality and marginalisation.

The ‘Government AI Readiness Index’ in the report ranked the US at number one and the UK at number two in terms of AI readiness, out of 172 countries. The other three AI-ready countries in the top five were Finland, Germany and Sweden. However, the US and UK were ranked 24th and 22nd respectively in the report’s ‘Responsible Use’ sub-index.

This disparity was also seen in Asian countries, with Singapore ranked sixth in readiness but only 19th in responsibility, while South Korea was similarly ranked seventh and 21st. China, Russia and India also performed poorly in the ‘Responsible AI’ ranking in comparison to their readiness ranking.

Irresponsible use of AI technology can entrench existing economic and societal inequality, potentially leaving billions of people marginalised. In the past year, ethical issues around AI have gained a higher profile (for instance, several tech giants halted police use of their facial-recognition tools), encouraging Oxford Insights and the IDRC to start tracking AI responsibility alongside AI readiness.

The responsibility ranking is based on nine indicators, across four criteria, which reflect the OECD’s principles on AI: inclusivity, accountability, transparency and privacy. Meanwhile, their readiness ranking is based on willingness to adopt AI; supply of AI expertise and tools, and data and infrastructure for supporting these tools.

Nordic-Baltic countries emerged as leaders in responsible use of AI, with Estonia, Norway, Finland and Sweden all in the top five. Some countries which do not rank highly in AI readiness perform highly in terms of AI responsibility, including Senegal (9th), Mauritius (13th) and Romania (17th).

“Our report shows that some of the world’s most AI-advanced countries are not prioritising and practicing responsible AI in the way they should be,” said Richard Stirling, CEO of Oxford Insights. “Nations from the US [and] the UK to Russia, China and Israel need to ensure that as they implement AI technologies, they do it in a way that benefits all their citizens.”

“Taking a lead from countries in the Baltic-Nordic region such as Finland and Estonia, there must be a greater focus on data representativeness and protection, privacy legislation and national ethics frameworks to protect citizens rights and prevent unfair and discriminatory outcomes for certain groups in society.”

“AI is transforming the way in which countries are governed, so it will become increasingly important that governments, while capitalising on AI’s potential, also have protocols and regulations in place to ensure implementation is ethical, transparent and inclusive.”