Postdoctoral fellow at the Wits Centre for Journalism, Dr Job Mwaura, has been awarded the prestigious African Peace Network Individual Research Fellowship (APN-IRF) by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), based in New York.

AI’s integration into everyday life is becoming increasingly prominent, and this widespread adoption carries pressing questions surrounding the ethical implications of AI tools and their use in society. Mwaura’s research, titled “Ethical Guidelines for Artificial Intelligence in Crime Control and Public Order Management”, aims to address these questions, and harmonise the revolutionary prospects of AI in crime control with the moral imperatives that must underline innovations in this space.

Mwaura is also part of a consortium of South African scholars from six universities undertaking a study examining the AI usage trends among undergraduates in South African universities. This comes as academics and educators increasingly explore the use of AI in higher education, and emphasises the undeniable need for ethical paradigms to be put in place at the nascent stages of AI engagement in education.

WCJ Director, Dr Dinesh Balliah, says Mwaura’s latest APN-funded research promises a more expansive scope. “Integral to this research is fieldwork, which will see collaboration with several stakeholders like AI experts, professionals in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, law enforcement agencies, civil society organisation representatives, tech enthusiasts, and community leaders,” says Balliah. “By gathering views from these diverse perspectives, Dr Mwaura aims to make a clear, context-based and practical guide on how to use AI in crime control and public order management, and we look forward to supporting him across our network.”

Mwaura says that without robust ethical guidelines, we walk a risky path in creating potentially biased, invasive, or violent AI systems. “The ethical consequences are enormous in high-stakes areas like crime control and public order management,” he explains. “Misguided applications can spiral into outcomes with severe repercussions, from undue arrests to inadvertent privacy breaches and biased profiling.”

The African Peace Network Fellowship’s support for Mwaura’s research shows how important and timely it is, and highlights a key role academics from Africa are playing in worldwide discussions about ethics in AI. 

“This award not only attests to Dr Mwaura’s unwavering commitment to broadening the horizons of knowledge within the African tech landscape, but also ensures the continent is well represented in global conversations around the ethical applications of this new technology,” adds Balliah.