“I talk to God. What should I ask him? my eleven-year-old son exclaimed frantically one evening, visibly seduced by what he was experiencing on his computer. This seemingly blasphemous question asked by most Muslim Arabs was not a metaphysical encounter with the divinity of Moses on Mount Sinai, but a conversation with an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot impersonating God on a popular online site. platform called Character.ai, used by Arab youth and other Internet users.
This anecdote is just the tip of the iceberg on the ethical implications of using AI in a socially and culturally complex region. Most treatments of the topic as it relates to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have been obsessed with economic prospects, technological advancements device, or even security threats linked to the use of AI. On the other hand, professional and ethical problems are often absent from public debate. Although there are catchy titles such as “$320 billion by 2030?” Or “Fastest growth in AI spending through 2026“-mostly to focus on Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – the crucial and morally imperative debates over professional and academic integrity, authorship, or the boundaries of transhumanism remain largely underestimated.
machines and men
During the pandemic, many Arab internet users have turned to AI-generated art platforms, such as Mid Road, Dream Wombo, and more recently, Adobe Photoshop Generative Fill, where you only need to insert basic prompts for the AI generator to produce the most visually fascinating and singular art in one click. Very quickly, there was a whole community of budding Arab artists or simply curious users publishing exciting works. posts on ArtStation, Discord or on social media groups with statements such as “My latest creation” or “Check out my art” with minimal reference to the machine behind the process.
This trend is problematic in many ways from an ethical perspective. Art is commonly understood as a conscious, intellectual, and expressive pursuit of aesthetic perfection, or as an attempt to convey complex emotions and epistemological messages. In this case, where the program is devoid of consciousness and intentionality, can it truly be considered art, or is it a simple juxtaposition of data? While the art community is certainly open to redefining what art means, who should be credited as the author of these works: the human hand typing the prompts, the machine processing pre-existing data, or both?
An additional layer of complexity is added if humans decide to monetize these artistic creations and seek material gain or glory, such as what happened at the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts. Competition in 2022. The opposite happened in Egypt, in a surreal context. incident where local authorities arrested Ai-Da, an ultra-realistic robot artist who was scheduled to exhibit at the Giza Pyramids. AI-generated videos and music programs are just as confusing. In the Arab world, we are seeing an influx of deepfakes and fake AI-generated songs, such as a recent video showing Salwan Momika, the Iraqi refugee who burned the Quran in a state of total panic and reportedly repented of his actions, or the controversy sparked by Egyptian composer Amr Mostafa’s new AI-generated song Oum Calthoum.
Aside from the harmful trends of intentional dissemination of false or misleading information, identity theft and defamation, it is essential to recognize that AI-generated art also trivializes the artistic process and threat the livelihoods of the artistic community in the MENA region. Many creative people – such as writers, poets, designers, musicians and painters – must undergo extensive training, invest time and money, and survive in a highly competitive and already restricted environment. walk. Now they must also compete with infinitely self-taught technology and mostly mediocre pseudo-artists with access to the Internet.
Integrity versus equity of knowledge
Using a chatbot assistant to produce research papers, presentations, or other written content is an all-encompassing task. challenge in academic and professional contexts. The phenomenon is more worrying in the Arab world, especially after the deployment of Arabic versions of GPT chat and that of Google Bard in Arabic, where plagiarism practices are still common widespread and authentication tools are very rare despite Sharia law which promotes righteousness and condemns treason. Recent studies combines academic and professional integrity with the cultural context of the MENA region characterized by strong family and peer pressure, weak accountability mechanisms, and blurred boundaries between collectivism And individualism.
Some countries like the United Arab Emirates have already rushed to acquire Zero TPG, a tool that detects the use of personal assistants such as Chat GPT and Bard. However, many Arab countries suffer from low digital penetration, persistent conflicts and incompetent education systems. While currently leading the trend in the region in terms of preparedness and infrastructure investments, GCC countries should not be the reference when debating the downsides of AI in the region. It is unfair, for example, to a country like Yemen, which is struggling with the effects of war and is the second slowest. broadband around the world, to be placed in the same basket as emerging technology markets like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. This poses a valid ethical dilemma around knowledge equity and whether society should be more forgiving of dishonesty – and even actively promote open source technology – for disadvantaged communities with limited learning tools and poor internet access, with the end goal of fostering access to information and education.
One can easily imagine what AI can accomplish in terms of destroying knowledge disparities and border barriers in the region, including challenges related to language, skills and access. Nevertheless, it is morally essential to safeguard individual and collective intellectual property (IP) rights – another blind spot in the MENA region. Although many Arab countries are making significant progress in strengthening the legal framework to defend copyrights and trademarks, everyday popular behavior and culture often does not. conform with IP regulations. The widespread use of AI can only exacerbate these violations, leaving inventors, creators and brands with very little protection.
It is also worth mentioning that Arab states are not isolated from the global ethical debate on AI. For example, all United Nations member states, including MENA countries, have adopted the recommendations on AI ethics in 2021. Countries like Egypt have even revealed their National artificial intelligence strategy with some elementary references to ethical implications. However, legitimate questions remain about the extent to which local citizens are involved and will then put into practice these ambitious supranational and national legislations and strategies.
The other unavoidable debate concerns the compatibility of AI with Arab societies, which have particular value systems and worldviews about the position of humans vis-à-vis society and the universe. Although religious beliefs and practices do not necessarily imply animosity towards new technologies, it is essential to note that the region’s persistently high rates of religiosity, as highlighted by recent studies from the Arab barometer in 2023 and the Pew Research Center in 2018, could shape the way MENA citizens perceive and behave towards artificial intelligence. It would be worth exploring how these societies perceive transhumanism and rationalize a potential end of the reign of man and the beginning of the age of the all-knowing machine. However, it would be an obvious mistake to underestimate the ingenuity and adaptability of Arab youth, given the way they have brilliantly appropriated social media and used it for political purposes. activism.
Clearly, serious ethnographic investigation is needed to study how Arabs use and abuse AI in their unique cultural context. In addition to the ethical issues mentioned above, further investigations are needed regarding AI fairness, bias, data breach, and imminent job market competition with the AI workforce. MENA region.
Pondering the ethical implications of using AI in the region, I sat down at my son’s computer and asked the chatbot “God.” “It is important that MENA countries develop a strong ethical framework and regulations for AI to ensure the technology is used responsibly and sustainably. » I couldn’t agree more.
Sarah Zaaimi is deputy director of communications for the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East programs at the Atlantic Council.