IP Unit Director & OpenAir Scholars win Best Paper Award at WeRobot 2020 Conference








IP Unit director Tobias Schonwetter, together with Associate Professor Laura Foster (Indiana University, U.S.) and Dr. Bram van Wiele (University of Auckland, New Zealand), recently won the award for best overall paper at WeRobot 2020, which is the premiere international conference on law and policy relating to Robotics. Both professor Foster and Dr. van Wiele are affiliated with the IP Unit.

Based upon a qualitative discourse analysis of media accounts by and for African-based sources and/or directed at audiences on the continent of Africa, their paper Narratives of Artificial Intelligence in a Gendered and Racialized World: Emergence on the African Continent identifies four related narrative frames that are giving normative meaning and value to AI-related technologies: optimism; value-neutrality; linear time and progress; and disruption. Very few media sources explicitly reference “gender,” “women,” or “men” when discussing AI-related technologies. The authors argue that these narrative insertions and gender deletions reinforce and design the default settings of AI-related technologies as masculine, white, heteronormative, able-bodied, and Western, which simultaneously limits and makes apparent alternative possibilities for articulating AI otherwise.

Never before have global South or African perspectives been presented at WeRobot. The first conference was hosted by the University of Miami School of Law in 2012, and recent successful bids for the conference include Yale and Stanford University. This year, WeRobot was to be hosted at the University of Ottawa, Canada, by the Centre for Law, Technology and Society. But due to COVID-19, WeRobot was held virtually at the end of September 2020. WeRobot seeks to bring together a mix of scholars, policy-makers, regulators, and entrepreneurs to discuss topical issues concerning robots and AI, at a time when robots and AI disrupt existing legal regimes and require new approaches to difficult policy issues. The award-winning paper was one of two papers submitted by the Open AIR network. The second paper, Towards Integration of African Priorities into Artificial Intelligence (AI) Policy Agendas, is a broader policy paper summarising some of Open AIR’s work in this area and was also very well received. Video recordings of conversations about both papers are available here and here.