Ethics and human rights in artificial intelligence research initiative for the African region

The growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies and industries within the African continent hold much promise for proffering innovative approaches to addressing challenges and improving socio-economic development in areas such as health, education, agriculture and service delivery. However, AI technological developments pose new and complex questions regarding ethics and social impact which the industry alone cannot answer. Important research questions in the application of AI should be dealt with not only by the companies building and deploying the technology, but also by independent academic research institutions in the region. The latter are best equipped to pursue localised and innovative interdisciplinary research for the benefit of the African continent.

To help support the need for rigorous and ground-breaking academic research in these areas, Facebook is supporting independent academic research work in Africa in the field of AI that takes into account interdisciplinary perspectives. This research initiative complements Facebook’s existing efforts to bolster independent research being undertaken in these areas, such as those we are supporting in Asia Pacific, India and Latin America and the TUM Institute for Ethics in AI.

This research initiative, through a request for proposals (RFP) coordinated by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) of South Africa, will result in the production of papers from academic institutions, think tanks, and research organizations registered and operational across Africa. Proposals will be reviewed by a selection committee, and the entities whose proposals are selected will receive a research grant.

We are particularly interested in proposals that pertain to the following research topics and questions.

1) Ethics by design
•    Policy makers are emphasizing the need for ethics by design. What does ethics and AI mean and look like in an African context? How can academia, government, and industry collaborate to promote and advance ethics by design practices and frameworks?
•    How can developers and companies ensure that their AI systems are explainable, what their purpose is, and what they entail?
•    How can academia help companies and governments better understand and operationalize ethics within their own sectors and activities? How can academia both inspire and build on industry best practices for responsible and ethical development of AI?
•    How can developers and companies ensure that their AI systems and applications are built in a fair and unbiased way? How should social science and humanities questions around fairness and discrimination be embedded into the technical design of AI? What best practices can we advance in this space?
•    How can developers and companies ensure that their AI systems are transparent to the affected individuals in a meaningful way? (For example, how will a person know whether they are being unfairly discriminated against because of an automated decision?)
•    What level of autonomy should be provided to the affected individuals concerning the use of AI without compromising the legitimate purposes of AI, and how should individuals exercise control over automated decisions?
2) Governance, ethics and human rights
•    How do hard and binding legal instruments, namely existing and proposed legislation, and ethical AI governance frameworks (soft law, non-binding) interact and mutually influence each other? Does the former stem from or pre-empt the latter? Are they complementary or competing?
•    How should international, regional and national human rights frameworks coexist and interact with each other? What can AI and ethics learn from human rights law and from the obligations it places on public and private actors?
•    What is the role of ethical codes in the broader regulatory landscape? How should they relate to laws and regulations (either existing or being developed)?
•    What is the role of academia in 1) promoting research on AI governance frameworks; 2) analyzing, anticipating, and identifying gaps in legislation and other governance models related to AI development and use; and 3) articulating best practices to guide ethical and innovative uses of data?
3) AI ethics and diversity
•    What factors should inform human and technical diversity in the design and development of AI systems (e.g. linguistic diversity, diversity of race, gender, religion etc) in the African context?
•    How should AI developers and companies foster and apply a multicultural approach to the ethical design of AI?
•    What are the most prominent narratives on the role and impact of AI in Africa? How does local knowledge on the relationship between humans and machines shape the understanding, the perception and adoption of AI in Africa?
•    How should companies navigate the tension between the benefits of a global approach versus the need to acknowledge important particularities and differences stemming from companies’ regional user base?
•    What would be a sound and scalable methodology for researchers and product developers to recognize and solve ethical challenges, while leveraging different regional perspectives that promote diversity?
This Request for Proposals (RFP) is open to individual researchers and groups of researchers from academic institutions, think tanks, and research organizations registered and operational in Africa.

The questions and themes under each of the three key areas above are just examples of possible research questions. Applicants are encouraged to come up with their own proposals and to leverage, as much as possible, regional context and local examples in their submissions.

Successful proposals will ideally demonstrate innovative and compelling research with tangible recommendations that have the potential to significantly impact fairness, transparency and diversity of AI and Ethics/human rights, along with innovative governance approaches to AI in Africa.

Successful awardees will be listed on the Facebook Research website and will be encouraged to openly publish any findings or insights from their work. Research findings will also serve as the basis for discussions for a workshop to be held in Accra in late 2020 or early 2021.

Enquiries may be directed to HSRC project coordinator, Dr Rachel Adams (



To make a submission, please click here

Submit a 2-3 page proposal that includes the following:
•    A research question and a clear statement of work that can be completed within six months of the award.
•    A summary of the project (1-2 pages) explaining the area of focus, a description of techniques, relevant prior work, and a timeline with milestones and expected outcomes (note that the timeline should not be more than six months).
•    A draft budget description (<1 page) including an approximate cost of the award and explanation of how funds would be spent. Proposals are encouraged to focus funding on project personnel, especially PhD students. Proposals from small collaborative teams are also encouraged. The proposed budget should be within USD 25,000 (overhead is typically limited to 5-8%). Please note that in the submission form you will be asked to provide the requested amount in USD.
•    Name(s) of the researcher(s) involved in the proposed work with their CV/resume.
•    Indication of any previous or current connections/collaborations with Facebook (in which case, please provide context and name the Facebook contacts).
•    Applying organizations must be non-profit or non-governmental organizations with recognized legal status in their respective country (equal to 501(c)(3) status under the United States Internal Revenue Code) and should comply with the applicable laws to receive foreign funds in their respective country.
•    Applicants must be the Principal Investigator on any resulting award.
•    Researchers are also responsible for obtaining approval from the PI’s university’s ethics/institutional review board, if applicable.
•    Each applicant may submit only one proposal per solicitation.
•    Applications are now open. Applications will close on 24 June 2020 at 5:00pm CAT.
•    Notifications will be sent by email to selected applicants by August 2020.
Facebook’s decisions will be final in all matters relating to this solicitation, including interpretation of these Terms and awards at any time. Awards will be subject to additional Terms and Conditions for awardees which will be communicated to recipients after selection. All items apply unless otherwise stated above.

Please Read These Terms Carefully Before Proceeding.
•    By submitting a proposal, you are authorizing Facebook to evaluate the proposal for a potential award, and you agree to the terms herein.
•    You agree that Facebook will not be required to treat any part of the proposal as confidential or protected by copyright, and may use, edit, modify, copy, reproduce, and distribute all or a portion of your proposal in any manner for the sole purposes of administering the website and evaluating the contents of the proposal.
•    You agree and acknowledge that personal data submitted with the proposal, including name, mailing address, phone number, and email address of you and other named researchers in the proposal may be collected, processed, stored and otherwise used by Facebook for the sole purposes of administering the website and evaluating the contents of the proposal.
•    You acknowledge that neither party is obligated to enter into any business transaction as a result of the proposal submission, Facebook is under no obligation to review or consider the proposal, and neither party acquires any intellectual property rights as a result of submitting the proposal.
•    Any feedback you provide to Facebook in the proposal regarding its products or services will not be treated as confidential or protected by copyright, and Facebook is free to use such feedback on an unrestricted basis with no compensation to you.
•    Applicants represent and warrant that they have authority to submit a proposal in connection with this RFP and grant the rights set forth herein on behalf of their organization.
See this page for full Terms and Conditions.