Biden’s AI order could bring opportunity to Black immigrants

Experts tell theGrio a measure in President Joe Biden’s executive order offers a vital opportunity for empowering Africa and growing the U.S. economy.

President Joe Biden’s new and historic executive order signed this week includes a measure that could bring what African and tech policy experts hope will be economic and educational benefits to immigrants from the continent. 

In the first-ever presidential order targeting the swiftly advancing artificial intelligence industry, Biden calls for the secretary of Homeland Security to “review and initiate” any policy changes that could “clarify and modernize immigration pathways for experts in AI and other critical and emerging technologies.”

President Joe Biden hands Vice President Kamala Harris the pen he used to sign his Oct. 30 executive order regarding artificial intelligence during an event in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The order calls for Homeland Security to consider pathways to the U.S. for immigration statuses including noncitizens of exceptional abilities, advanced-degree holders, and entrepreneurs. 

Biden also ordered a public report to be conducted with data on how experts in AI and other technologies have utilized the immigration system.

“What is integral to this country is making sure that we continue to be a place that people seek to come to make a contribution here, but also to realize their full potential,” Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, told theGrio.

“AI is an exciting place to come do that,” she said. “The president’s taking the action that makes it a little bit easier for that to happen.”

On a continent with an average age of 18 and an advancing tech industry, experts say the possibilities for the U.S. and Africa are endless.

“It’s a real opportunity for Africans to find a pathway to this country,” said Joseph Tolton, an African diaspora activist and founder of the Pan-African advocacy organization Interconnected Justice. 

“They’re going to come and study and train and learn and be able to bring their own hunger and interest around this field and their own intellectual capacity,” he added. 

A. Prince Albert III, president and CEO of the social entrepreneurship consulting firm Goldwater Ventures, told theGrio that Biden’s order on AI and immigration would be “vital” in Africa, where there are several tech hubs in countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

There are several tech hubs in Africa, and President Joe Biden’s executive order on AI could help people there and in the U.S. Above, young entrepreneurs in Benin attend online training in July 2020 at the Sèmè-One building, an incubator for start-ups. (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP via Getty Images)

“Africa is not just a resource to pillage from, but is really a continent to empower,” said Albert, “because there are so many really, really cool technologies coming out of Africa that can help us here.”

Albert, who holds a law degree in technology and telecommunications from Georgetown University, noted that there are agricultural technologies coming out of Africa that could be exported to the U.S. to “make our food creation more viable.”

Rather than the historical “extraction” and “manipulating” of Africa’s human and natural resources that continues to plague parts of the continent, Albert said creating more pathways through AI could empower the more than 1 billion Africans, while also aiding the U.S. in helping to “change the world.”

“The United States needs to ally itself with that kind of growth by really empowering people with opportunity,” he added. 

Tolton noted that this new potential opportunity for African immigrants comes on the heels of last year’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, where the Biden-Harris administration signaled it is thinking about a “pipeline” for African talents.

Goldwater Ventures’ CEO said, “there are so many really, really cool technologies coming out of Africa that can help us here.” Above, a student works with a 3D printer at the Innovation Lab at the University of Johannesburg in February. The site develops software, algorithms, 3D video games, and web and mobile applications. (Photo by Maria Giulia Trombini / AFP via Getty Images)

“There was a big emphasis, of course, on trade and industry, but…there was a really big emphasis on the creative industries because Africa is… becoming a bit of a production hub,” he shared. “The administration went out of its way to create forums to really allow that interaction and engagement and cross-selling to be expanded.”

Tolton added, “I think that there’s an opportunity here now for them to do the same thing as it relates to AI.”

Albert of Goldwater Ventures called for the U.S. to provide educational and certification opportunities. He noted that Google opened a certification program during the COVID-19 pandemic to “retool” the U.S. job economy. 

“A comprehensive tooling or strategic implementation of programs for free throughout Africa is really important,” he said.  

Ultimately, he said, Africa’s infrastructure is prime for this moment. Due to its ruralness, Africa, which did not experience an industrial revolution, has avoided “pitfalls” experienced in the U.S., such as “intense gentrification” and “environmental disruptions.”

As a result, Africa is “still in somewhat rural places with very light infrastructure,” which has allowed it to advance in its tech production, including “leapfrogging into like 5G,” said Albert.

He added, “Africa is going to be vital for the U.S. economy to rebound and…take first place over a rising China and rising others.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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