The Public-private: A Key Legal Nexus for South Africa's AI Future

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here; but what ‘here’ means is very different according to the country in which it is being implemented or explored. In South Africa, a data controversy relating to the commercial use of the national social grants distribution database provides some foundational insight into future risks in the deployment of AI. I will be considering specifically here the public-private intersections in the deployment of technology-centred projects, and what accountability needs to look like to mitigate against the risk that citizens may be subject to because of them. Private-public intersections are increasingly relevant in the delivery of services to the public, and AI in South Africa will grow the relevance of these relationships. An examination of a South African case study demonstrates how the result of such relationships can lead to risks of infringements of the rights of citizens. The case study also demonstrates that, while the law struggles to keep up with developments in the political economy of technologies, it can play a vital role in ensuring the accountability needed for a beneficial introduction of AI technologies into the development space.