AUC’s Access to Knowledge for Development Center, Cambridge’s Leverhulme Center for the Future of Intelligence Launch Report on AI in MENA

The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) at The American University in Cairo (AUC) School of Business and the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI) at the University of Cambridge, UK, have launched a new report: “Imagining a Future with Intelligent Machines: A Middle Eastern and North African Perspective”, as part of the United Nations AI for Good Summit 2021. The report is the direct output from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) edition of the Global Artificial Intelligence Narratives (GAIN) project, a four-year initiative running from 2018 to 2022, hosted by the University of Cambridge’s CFI. 

Through a series of workshops conducted outside of the Anglophone West, GAIN engages with local interdisciplinary groups of researchers and practitioners from fields related to AI narratives, such as science fiction scholars, artists, AI researchers, philosophers, writers, and anthropologists, to name a few.

Kanta Dihal, a senior research fellow at CFI and GAIN’s co-principal investigator, and Stephen Cave, CFI’s executive director, and GAIN’s second co-PI, collaborated with Nagla Rizk, professor of economics and founding director of A2K4D at AUC’s School of Business, to organize the MENA edition of the GAIN workshops. The interdisciplinary workshop was held at AUC’s Tahrir campus over two days in October 2019 and brought together participants from across the region, the United Kingdom, and the United States. “We all learned together. The [Global AI Narratives workshop in Cairo] was an excellent opportunity to bring the voice of this part of the world to the global discussion on AI narratives from different countries,” Rizk reflected on the event.

The workshop aimed to map the cultural, literary, philosophical, technical, and gendered histories of AI in the MENA region. Workshop discussions covered a range of topics including contemporary perceptions of AI as depicted in popular culture, from films and TV programs to literature; the question of the intersectionality of gender, class, race and AI in the Arab world; as well as the relationship between futurism, science fiction, and AI in the region. In-depth information about workshop insights and panels can be found on A2K4D’s blog as well as the GAIN website.

The peer-reviewed report produced by partners A2K4D and CFI to share findings from the workshop can be accessed through this link. The report is authored by A2K4D’s Nagla Rizk and Nadine Weheba, and Kanta Dihal, Stephen Cave, and Tomasz Hollanek of CFI. The report maps out themes – such as colonialism, contemporary political turmoil, as well as technological determinism, and gender roles – that are pivotal to the understanding of the Middle Eastern and North African conceptions of futures with intelligent machines.

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Founded in 1919, The American University in Cairo (AUC) is a leading English-language, American-accredited institution of higher education and center of the intellectual, social, and cultural life of the Arab world. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions and study abroad programs. 

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