May 22, 2023

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman Visits Lagos: Genuine Engagement Or A PR Move?

Sam Altman, co-founder and CEO of OpenAI, recently visited Lagos, Nigeria, as part of his global tour to promote AI adoption and understand diverse perspectives. However, concerns have been raised about the exploitation of Kenyan content moderators and the impact of OpenAI’s technology on marginalized communities.

Nigeria: Africa’s biggest OpenAI adopter

Over the weekend, Altman took part in a two-day exclusive event at Muson Centre, Lagos, Nigeria.

“Nigeria, among all of the countries on the continent, I believe has been the biggest adopter of our technologies,” Technext reports Altman told audiences. “Also, before this, when I was a partner at YC, we had great success investing in Nigerian companies.”

The Lagos event was part of Altman’s global tour which includes cities like Toronto, New Delhi, Tel Aviv, Madrid, Brussels and Singapore. According to Technext, Lagos, Nigeria the only African city outlined in the tour.

“I’m doing this trip around the world for a month to talk to developers and a few policymakers in these different places. And the reason I really wanted to do this is I think we get quite an echo chamber in San Fransisco, we can kind of hear one thing again and again and one set of things.”

Sam Altman and event host at Muson Centre Lagos
Image Credit: Techpoint Africa

Although the exact purpose of Altman’s visit was not officially disclosed, Olusola Ayoola of RAIN Technologies told Techpoint Africa that Altman’s visit could serve as an opportunity for OpenAI to understand how the technology can meet Nigeria’s needs.

Altman also recently engaged with Black audiences during events hosted by Operation HOPE and Clark Atlanta University. He emphasized the positive impact AI could have on communities of color and highlighted the potential economic opportunities it can create, particularly for students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Beating the PR allegations

Altman’s Lagos visit has prompted questions about whether it represents genuine community engagement or an attempt to address OpenAI’s PR challenges in the region. OpenAI faced scrutiny earlier this year due to the treatment of Kenyan moderators working on ChatGPT, as well as concerns about AI bias perpetuating existing inequalities.

In January, a TIME investigation exposed the horrendous conditions many Kenyan Sama employees had been subject to while moderating content from OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT. Moderators received $1.32 to $2 an hour to sift through harmful content which left some workers ‘mentally scarred’.

Then in March, content moderators filed a lawsuit against Sama (and others), accusing them of unlawful layoffs, and earlier this month, ChatGPT moderators were among the 150 African content moderators who voted to unionize in a watershed moment for the tech industry.

Read: AI ‘Godfather’ Warns Of Better Form Of Intelligence As He Quits Google, But Black Women Said It First

Additionally, the impact of AI bias on marginalized communities, including the Black community, raises questions about equitable access to AI technologies and the potential perpetuation of existing societal inequalities.

To beat the PR stunt allegations, Altman’s visit must first, acknowledge and address these concerns. Moreover, OpenAI must demonstrate a commitment to transparency, fair labor practices, and inclusive decision-making processes to gain the trust of the communities it aims to serve.

Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)