Andrew Takyi-Appiah, the Co-Founder and CEO of Zeepay, has called for a consumer-focused approach to artificial intelligence (AI) adoption in Africa. Speaking at the Mobile Technology for Development (MT4D) session during the recent 3i Africa Summit, he emphasized the need for cautious integration of AI to ensure its safety and efficacy for Africans.

Historical Hesitation and Current Challenges

Takyi-Appiah highlighted Africa’s historical hesitation in adopting new technologies due to safety concerns and the challenges of widespread adoption. The continent was slow to embrace the internet and is only now beginning to integrate blockchain technology. As AI emerges as the next significant technological advancement, regulators face the challenge of understanding its full implications, especially regarding safety.

Caution Against Premature Regulation

During his address at the summit, Takyi-Appiah warned against the premature drafting of AI policies and regulations, suggesting that it could hinder the technology’s potential benefits. “AI is a necessary evil – it is a very powerful thing – we need it, but it can also destroy us. We can literally go to war from an AI,” he remarked. He advocated for a more measured approach, focusing initially on consumer behavior to guide the safe adoption of AI.

Emphasizing Consumer Behavior in AI Integration

Takyi-Appiah proposed that African countries should prioritize understanding consumer behavior as the primary leverage point for AI integration. He suggested designing protocols around consumer interactions to ensure safety and reliability before implementing regulations and policy frameworks. “If we tested AI in the market and gained a better understanding, we could then develop realistic policy frameworks and regulations based on actual experiences,” he explained.

Scaling SMEs with AI

He provided examples of how AI could benefit small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Previously, industry players had to rely on expensive enterprise service buses (ESB) for consumer behavior analytics, costing up to a million dollars. With AI, the same value can be achieved for around $10. However, Takyi-Appiah cautioned about the risks of exposing consumer data and emphasized the need for protocols to manage these risks.

Leading with Fintech Innovation

Regarding regulation, Takyi-Appiah urged regulators to allow fintech innovators to spearhead the digitalization agenda, warning that early regulation could stifle innovation. He noted that fintech firms have already developed infrastructures capable of driving Africa’s digital payments agenda, but progress has been impeded by bureaucratic discussions at governmental and continental levels.

A Three-Tier Approach to Regulation

Takyi-Appiah proposed a three-tier approach to regulation:

1. Conduct: Innovators and firms should develop products and services with integrity, prioritizing customer interests and implementing appropriate financial crime controls, onboarding protocols, and anti-money laundering programs.

2. Ecosystem: Innovators and firms should collaborate to establish common standards, protocols, and systems that optimize consumer behavior, agree on data sharing, and protect the ecosystem.

3. Regulatory Oversight: Regulators should focus on setting clear objectives, ensuring seamless implementation, and overseeing compliance and risk controls. Some compliance measures should be managed by the regulator, while others should be handled by industry players.