Artificial Intelligence

Kenya’s attempt to regulate the rapidly growing field of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics through the 2023 Robotics and AI Society Bill has encountered fierce resistance from industry stakeholders. Information Technology (IT) professionals, including experts from the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), have raised significant concerns, urging Parliament to reject the proposed legislation.

During a session marking International Safer Internet Day, Kenyan IT experts, including Alex Gakuru, Director of the Center for Law in Information Technology and head of the AMCHAM delegation, addressed the National Assembly’s Communication, Information, and Innovation (CII) committee, local publication Business Daily reports. They highlighted crucial flaws in the bill, emphasizing that AI and robotics sector stakeholders were not consulted during its drafting.

The bill, titled the Kenya Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Society Bill 2023, introduces penalties for unlicensed entities, defined as those yet to register with the proposed Robotics Society of Kenya (RSK). Penalties include fines of KES 1 M (over USD 6 K at current rates), a potential two-year prison sentence, or both.

Gakuru asserted that the bill disproportionately focuses on regulating the robotics sector, neglecting essential aspects of artificial intelligence. He argued that the poorly drafted legislation may lead to legal challenges and urged its withdrawal for further consultation with industry stakeholders.

Kenya’s current standing in AI readiness, ranked fifth in Africa, has spurred concerns among experts. The 2022 Government AI Readiness Index placed Kenya behind Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, and Morocco. Despite a decade of investment totalling USD 81.5 M in AI, Kenya lags behind South Africa and Nigeria, according to Microsoft’s “Artificial Intelligence in the Middle East and Africa Outlook Report.”

Elizabeth Mutua, a lecturer at the Dedan Kimathi School of Computer, highlighted additional issues, such as the lack of publicly available data sets for AI development and the absence of a legal framework governing AI and robotics in the country.

AI Kenya, a private initiative advocating for the expansion of data science and robotics, labelled the bill as a “serious threat to the innovation and growth of the dynamic tech ecosystem.” These sentiments echo the wider industry sentiment that the proposed regulations, rather than fostering innovation, may stifle the vibrant tech landscape in Kenya.

In response to the mounting opposition, Dagoreti South MP John Kiarie, chair of the CII committee, assured that stakeholders’ concerns would be considered during public participation in the bill. As Kenya grapples with finding the right balance between regulation and innovation in the AI and robotics sector, the fate of the proposed legislation remains uncertain.

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