News & events


Policy Action Network (Topical Guides)

10 March 2020
09:00 - 14:00


Date: 10 March 2020

Time: 09:00 – 14:00

Venue: Bo-Kaap Cultural Hub, 26 Pentz St, Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

For catering purposes we request that you RSVP by 07 March 2020:

Speakers Include:

Prof. Joe Cannataci
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy

Prof. Crain Soudien
CEO of the HSRC

Mr. Akhona Damane
Manager: Office for Digital Advantage, DSI/CSIR

Adv. Fadlah Adams
Senior Researcher: Parliamentary and International Affairs, South African Human Rights Commission


Data-driven technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), are becoming more widely used in all domains of South African society. From private companies to non-profit organisations and government entities, the interest in data-driven models and systems for improving planning, decision-making and service delivery is steadily rising, motivated by both global trends in digitalisation and the competitive edge that such technologies appear to offer.

Yet, many of these AI and data-driven systems are not transparent to society, functioning in silent and invisible ways to automate decisions on a range of social issues, such as access to credit and social grants, and even entry to physical spaces. Global research on these technologies is increasingly showing how AI systems reproduce historical biases along lines of race, gender, sexuality and income. 

In South Africa a large proportion of the population is vulnerable to biases and potential exploitation through emerging tools. A survey of public understanding of technologies associated with the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (4IR) showed that only 39% of South Africans have heard of AI.  The survey also found that a relatively high proportion of South Africans are concerned about the impact of automation on future job prospects, and the majority of the population is uncomfortable with robots performing certain tasks.

For policy actors, striking a balance between the opportunities that digital and data-driven technologies can offer and the concerns they raise is a key issue to consider. So, too, is embedding the new policy objectives of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI White Paper)  within the country’s broader commitments to social transformation, which the South African Government can address through appropriate and consultative policy measures.


This series of PAN Topical Guides on AI & Data seeks to provide key research insights and policy considerations for policy-makers, and other interested stakeholders, on how these technologies need to be developed, used and safeguarded in a manner that aligns with the transformation objectives of South Africa. In addition, each Guide outlines ways in which South Africa may respond to the growth of data-driven systems and technologies, including AI, to foster and inculcate a more inclusive and equitable society, rather than deepen divides.


The Policy Action Network (PAN) is a project in the Research Use and Impact Assessment (RIA) department of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), supported by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). The HSRC is South Africa’s statutory research agency and the largest publicly-funded research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent. RIA and PAN are leading HSRC’s policy support work on the social implications of AI and data in South Africa.

The University of Pretoria (UP) is one of Africa’s top universities, producing socially impactful research to find solutions for the world’s most pressing issues. Through UP’s South African Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Hub and Data Science for Social Impact Research Group, under the ABSA UP Chair of Data Science, the university is engaging with the role of emerging technologies in sustainable development in the country and on the continent.