Imagine this. On your next grocery trip (wearing a face mask of course), you pick up an item listed on your shopping list. You put it in your bag. And then you walk out of the store to accomplish the rest of your day’s errands. In this instance, no crime was committed because the product you picked up was automatically identified by in-store sensors and algorithms of deep learning machines, and charged to your account through an app in your smartphone. What appears to be science fiction is in fact, a reality in many US cities where Amazon Go stores are located. And this reality is increasingly powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
AI is opening up infinite possibilities and profoundly transforming how we live from day-to-day. In recent years, novel applications have emerged — some even with life-saving potential. For instance, a Japanese firm called Brain found a novel way to tap AI to identify pastries for the convenience of bakeries across Japan. The tech company’s BakeryScan was so fascinating that one doctor from the Kyoto-based Louis Pasteur Center for Medical Research launched a whole new study of the technology to be used in diagnosing cancer cells in human beings.
More businesses today are leveraging AI to help with their bottom line and create value. Half of the roughly 2,400 respondents to McKinsey’s 2020 State of AI survey said their organizations adopted this technology in at least one function as it increased revenues and savings due to automation. More than 20 percent said that at least five percent of their profits in 2020 could be attributed to the introduction of AI in their operations.
The case could then be made that promoting the use of AI — not just on a firm level, but on a national level — is one decisive step on the path to economic development and prosperity. In 2017, PwC estimated that AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030. US consultancy firm Kearney and Singapore’s EDBI projected that in the same period, a shift to AI could propel ASEAN’s GDP by $1 trillion (est. P48 trillion).
However, it appears there’s long way to go before the region realizes this benefit as the research indicated that AI investment per capita in Southeast Asia is only $2 (est. P96), which is way less than what more developed countries spend such as the US at $155 (est. P7,400) and China at $21 (est. P1,000).
That could soon change. Recently, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) launched the National AI Strategy Roadmap. This document envisions that the Philippines could one day become a big data processing hub and emerge as a global center of excellence in AI. In line with this objective, the Roadmap calls for the establishment of the National Center for AI Research (NCAIR) by 2024 that will study scientific advances in AI, actively develop algorithms for various use-cases and, more importantly, deploy the same in addressing various socio-economic needs of our society.
During the Roadmap’s launch, Dr. Erika Legara and Dr. Christopher Monterola of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) enumerated AI’s many applications across different sectors. For example, the Balik-Scientists shared how AI was instrumental in helping an agricultural company prevent spoilage of its feeds and reduce its cost by P100 million. Another is how AI helped the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) in substantially reducing the processing time of tasks related to supervising institutions. Moreover, AI was utilized by the Aboitiz School of Innovation to help a manufacturing company develop more efficient processes through an optimized machine-to-human interface saving over P75 million in the process.
Now that we are equipped with a roadmap, we must pick up the pace in harnessing AI’s potentials to be one of the key drivers of the country’s recovery — even more so that we have already made respectable strides in this field, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation across the country’s various sectors.
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for more than 16 years. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.