Articles,  Issue XXI, Jan 2021

Artificial Intelligence – Is It the Ultimate in the Fight against Corruption?

Corruption continues to be one of the most pervasive anti-social vice in our societies. Often times and especially in developing countries, corruption is associated with government officials and politicians who use it as the oil to lubricate the government machinery that guarantees their stay in power. Because corruption entails serious threats for economic, social and political development; the world has, both at global and national levels, witnessed relentless efforts to fight it.

The fight against corruption has come in different forms and some organizations are offering solutions to enhance it. For instance, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has been instrumental in developing robust policy frameworks aimed at supporting the fight against social injustices such as corruption. Transparency International (TI) has Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre’s operating in about 60 countries that empower citizens in these countries to report corruption incidences in a manner that protects the citizens from victimization. Similarly, nations and regional blocks are also implementing and strengthening their respective policy and regulatory frameworks to make their war against corruption more effective.

Over the past years, a new digital frontier known as Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged and it has revolutionized the fight against corruption. While the AI ecosystem has created opportunities to enhance the anti-corruption crusade, it has also been seen as an enabler of corruption. New technologies have the potential to support corrupt practices through the unethical use of programs or systems, especially those used to deliver services by public institutions. For instance, dark webs host a great variety of anti-social vices, corruption being one of them.

Given the above, it is therefore important to establish if AI is the ultimate in the fight against corruption and if the world is going to witness the emergence of robots capable of replacing human intervention on both the demand and supply sides of corruption. This article will not focus on the technical aspects of AI but will mainly focus on establishing if indeed AI is what will help societies emerge victorious in the war against corruption. The remaining sections of this article will provide basic insights on what AI is, how it is impacting lives and how it is linked to the fight against corruption. At the end, an answer will be provided to the central question embedded in the title of this article.

AI can be defined as a science that is used to make machines replicate human intelligence. It is technology that make machines become smart. The advent of AI with its peripheral technologies such as machine learning, robotics process automation and object recognition has expanded the cyber space in a manner not seen before. Its unprecedented use and the way it is deeply entrenched in almost all aspects of society clearly heralds the fourth industrial revolution.

AI is now more than ever widely used in sectors such as health, construction, education, agriculture, banking and aviation just to cite a few examples. Present in the length and breadth of the economic and social spectrum, AI has transformed our lives by making it easier and faster to access goods and services regardless of geographical location. How everybody live and work has now become digitized at astonishingly levels.

While AI facilitates easier and faster access to goods and services as well as information, it is also used to eliminate opportunities for corruption and many countries across the world have made giant strides in using it to fight corruption. For example, digital channels are now being used in delivering more transparent public services. Essentially, what this means is that human interventions are being replaced with technology. More countries are either using or contemplating using digital channels to deliver goods and services, especially those that are public in nature. For instance, many governments are increasingly implementing electronic government (e-government). A survey done by the United Nations in 2016 confirmed a growing trend in the adoption of e-government by many countries. E-government technologies enable information to traverse through and across government structures while allowing the public at large to interface with government digital platforms that host vast volumes of information. This allows for greater transparency, accountability while limiting discretion vested in public officials –all key factors in minimizing or eliminating opportunities for corruption.

Recent research has provided evidence of a strong link between the use of technologies such as e-government and reduced incidences of corruption. In their 2019 report on Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Transparency International (TI) measured corruption levels of 180 countries on a scale of 0 to 100, with a score of 0 being highly corrupt while a score of 100 meant that a country was free from corruption. All countries that scored 70 and above in the CPI were also featured as leaders in implementing e-government in a United Nations biennial report on E-Government survey. In a report by the World Economic Forum, the Networked Preparedness Index (NPI) ranked countries based on their preparedness to exploit opportunities that come with AI. Again, all countries with a NPI of 60 and below scored above 70 in the Corruption Perception Index report for 2019. To reinforce this glaring relationship, a report by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in 2018 showed that countries that had implemented Artificial Intelligence were among countries that scored above 70 in the Corruption Perception Index report for 2019.

The widespread use of AI, especially in delivery of public services, is therefore motivated by its ability to reduce opportunities for corruption. While it has provided tools that have made fighting corruption more effective, it is still not the ultimate in the fight against corruption. Information and Communications Technologies are not necessarily the cure against corruption because on the downside, they have the potential to exacerbate crime. While AI can analyze large volumes of data faster, produce results with surgical precision and also use image facial recognition technologies to identify individuals at a crime scene; it still lacks soft skills such as empathy, persuasion and generally inter-personal skills that human beings’ posses. AI does not have the ability to understand and analyze soft attributes such as emotions and other behavioral traits that motivate a human being to commit crimes such as corruption. Human beings, on the other hand, have emotions and empathy to understand behavioral factors that cause a person to engage in corrupt activities. This is important in the designing and implementation of anti-corruption interventions such as counselling or reprimanding persons that engage in corrupt practices. One other challenge relates to algorithms- a set of instructions used by AI to carry out tasks. However robust algorithms might be, they are still prone to biasness because they are set by human beings.

Not until we have AI or machines embedded with empathy or emotions and capable of identifying and rejecting biasness, the human being, thus far, remains the ultimate in the fight against corruption.

End Notes:

OECD Strategic Approach to combating corruption and promoting integrity.  www.oecd.org/corruption.

Transparency International (2020).  Advocacy and Legal Advice centers. https://www.transparency.org/en/alacs

Adam, I. & Fazekas, M (2018).  Are emerging technologies helping win the fight against corruption in developing countries? Pathways for Prosperity Commission. www.pathwayscommission.bsg.ox.ac.uk.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2020). E-Government Survey. Digital Government in the decade of action for sustainable development. publicadministration.un.org

Global Perspectives and Insights: Artificial Intelligence- Considerations for the profession of Internal Audit. www.global.thliia.org.

Sizing the prize: Whats the real value of AI for your business and how can you capitalize? www.pwc.com/AI.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2014.

United Nations E-government survey report, 2016. www.publicadministration.un.org

Transparency International: Corruption Perception Index 2018. www.transparency.org/cpi

United Nations E-Government Survey 2018. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. www.publicadministration.un.org

World Economic Forum; The Global Information Technology Report 2016. www.weforum.org

T, Dutton et.al (2018). Building an AI world: Report on National and Regional AI   strategies. Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

I, Adam & M, Fazekas (2018). Are emerging technologies helping win the fight against corruption in developing countries? Pathways for Prosperity Commission. www.pathwayscommission.bsg.ox.ac.uk