Ethical AI: More Than Just a Buzzword


As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to make global headlines, ethical concerns and regulatory compliance are becoming increasingly critical.

This is especially true in Africa, where the tech landscape is rapidly changing amid unique challenges and opportunities. Vishala Panday, Head of Compliance and Business Services at Afriwise, emphasizes that AI should be seen as a tool that enhances, rather than alters, core values.

“AI is an enabler; it’s a vehicle, a mechanism, but does it change your core values? It shouldn’t,” asserts Panday. She underscores that despite the rapid evolution of technology, the fundamental ethical considerations should remain constant. This insight is crucial for African businesses navigating the complex terrain of innovation and compliance.

With a background spanning law, industry, procurement, and compliance, Panday offers a unique perspective on the regulatory technology (regtech) challenges facing African businesses. “I’m just an outlier when it comes to legal people,” Panday reflects, acknowledging her non-traditional career path which has equipped her with a rare blend of legal knowledge and business acumen, essential for bridging the gap between compliance requirements and practical implementation.

A significant challenge she identifies is the gap between legal practitioners and technology. “The two most counterintuitive concepts are legal and technology because they just don’t mesh,” she explains. This disconnect can hinder the implementation of effective compliance solutions, especially in Africa where many businesses are just beginning their digital transformation journey.

For many African companies, the concept of AI-driven compliance is still nascent. Panday observes that these companies often lack clarity about what they need from compliance programs, leading them to invest in complex solutions that exceed their current capabilities. Instead, she advocates for “fit for purpose” technology—solutions that align with a company’s existing maturity level and can grow with it. “Can we take you to the end, and connect the dots backwards?” she poses, stressing the importance of developing solutions that not only advance technologically but also adapt to local conditions.

While concerns about AI bias dominate discussions in more developed markets, these issues have yet to become a priority in Africa. Instead, the focus is on utilizing AI to foster compliant business practices and reshape perceptions about doing business on the continent. However, Panday acknowledges the potential for future concerns regarding bias in AI systems, emphasizing the importance of vigilance and accountability.

“We want Africa to be more attractive,” states Panday. By leveraging AI to enhance regulatory compliance, she aims to change the narrative around African business environments, often perceived as high-risk. This vision extends beyond just adopting new technologies; it involves using innovation to tackle systemic challenges and foster economic growth.

Panday also warns against a superficial approach to compliance, where businesses merely tick boxes without adding real value. She argues that true compliance transcends mere documentation and requires a deep understanding of regulatory demands and their practical business implications.

The evolving landscape necessitates a new skill set among legal and compliance professionals, one that bridges the gap between legal expertise and technological acumen. “To scope for technology, you need to know the end-to-end process,” Panday explains, highlighting the importance of comprehensive understanding in developing effective compliance programs.

As Africa’s tech ecosystem matures, there is a unique opportunity to bypass legacy systems and set new standards for responsible innovation. Panday’s vision for AI in reshaping Africa’s business landscape is both ambitious and timely, calling on tech leaders and policymakers to consider long-term implications over short-term gains. As AI adoption grows, the focus on ethics and compliance will likely intensify, setting the stage for Africa to potentially lead in developing a model for ethical AI that could influence practices worldwide. In this evolving context, voices like Panday’s are crucial in steering the continent toward a future where technology is a catalyst for inclusive and sustainable growth.