The role of artificial intelligence

Danial Norjidi

Artificial intelligence (AI) has a role in mitigating both short and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies, according to a recent APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) report.

Titled Artificial Intelligence in APEC, the report finds that technology ranging from automated health diagnostics in hospitals to smart recruitment processes in organisations is creating new, previously unforeseen jobs, products and services that will contribute to the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

Chair of the 2020 ABAC Rohana Mahmood said, “As we release this report, APEC economies are facing the twin threats of a global pandemic and an economic crisis that will leave its mark on our communities for years to come.

“How APEC economies address the accelerated rise of the digital economy and leverage new technologies like AI is one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

The report also examined how AI is being adopted and applied across the region and makes key recommendations calling for closer policy collaboration between business and governments.

A press statement shared that of the surveyed APEC economies, the report found that most already have plans, policies or programmes devoted to driving or supporting AI eco-systems.

The report highlighted some of the AI-related innovation underway across the region, including finding ways to help patients suffering from locked-in syndrome to communicate with the world by a team of engineers at a university in the Philippines.

Another notable innovation will benefit the farming industry.

It was shared that a Japanese corporation is trying to improve the efficiency of farming by automatically aggregating and analysing sensor data and satellite images to provide farmers with farm management recommendations.

In addition, a group from New Zealand developed AI-powered crocodile-spotting drones to keep swimmers safe in Australian rivers.

Rohana highlighted, “AI technologies have the potential to significantly impact businesses and communities across our economies. We believe that APEC can serve as an effective forum for member economies to collaborate on ways to maximise the benefits of AI and promote inclusive growth while ensuring its use in a responsible and ethical manner.”

According to the report, recognising this technology and its capabilities is a central component of an economy’s forward-looking policy for growth, productivity and job creation, highlighting that the potential of AI extends beyond economic benefits and tools to address complex issues such as poverty, inequality, climate change, healthcare and ways to cope with effects of the pandemic.

As AI becomes more widely accepted, the report suggests that APEC policymakers will need to draft new policies, revise existing ones, confront new questions, address new needs and re-assess its impact.

“With the cooperation of the public and private sector, a coordinated future of AI will increase the Asia-Pacific region’s competitiveness and further facilitate regional integration,” the report noted.

AI, already well on its way to transforming the Asia-Pacific, drives social and economic growth across all key sectors. However, the pandemic, and the ensuing focus on economic recovery, brings a renewed sense of urgency to discussions around AI usage.

Six main recommendations are shared in the report, the first of which is to include AI as part of the broader economic agenda.

“As APEC member economies look at their potential growth, and APEC leaders collaborate to pursue economic growth for the region, ABAC urges APEC leaders to: recognise the ways AI is already having on-the-ground impact on business practices, processes, models, and opportunities; use this information to make evidence based, policy decisions on AI; and position AI as a key component of overarching economic agendas, as well as of sector-specific digital transformation plans,” stated the report.

The second recommendation is to build trust in AI.

“As APEC member economies design, implement, or adjust AI strategies and frameworks, and APEC leaders launch multilateral discussions and agreements on AI, ABAC urges APEC leaders to: encourage regulators, industry, and other stakeholders to make fairness, transparency, accountability, explainability, and ethics part of the design and implementation process of AI products and services; support and drive the emergence of sector-specific, industry led efforts to develop ethical principles, guidelines, and frameworks for AI; and launch targetted revisions or adjustments to outdated or inadequate regulations that may hinder the public’s understanding of and confidence in AI.”

Third is to introduce supportive policy frameworks for AI.

“As businesses in APEC economies turn to AI to maximise relevance, profitability, and competitiveness, ABAC urges APEC leaders to: drive AI adoption by using AI to improve government business processes and the delivery of citizen services; developing government AI investment and procurement schemes to support the emergence of an ecosystem of AI entrepreneurs, SMEs, and researchers; work closely with AI specialists in industry and academia to develop AI policies and regulations that encourage innovation while protecting the public interest; and lean on the expertise and knowledge of the broad spectrum of AI stakeholders to ensure policies and regulation effectively reflect on-the-ground needs and expectations.”

Another recommendation is to improve regulatory coherence and international cooperation.

“As APEC economies develop AI frameworks and strategies, ABAC urges APEC to: strengthen AI-specific cross-regional cooperation initiatives to achieve greater regulatory coherence and consistency across the APEC region; and, encourage regulators, industry, and other stakeholders to collaborate to develop a coherent regional approach to regulation and compliance for AI.”

A fifth recommendation is to prepare jobs and skills for the transformations of AI.

“As APEC economies turn to AI and other data-driven technologies to plan and operationalise their post-COVID-19 economic recovery, ABAC urged APEC to: equip students and workers with the skills to navigate a rapidly evolving and increasingly uncertain job market; strengthen workforce training and re-skilling programmes; help businesses address the rising AI talent gap by making retraining a key pillar of education policies; and collaborate at the regional level to ensure AI knowledge, skills, competencies, and certifications are transferable across APEC economies.”

The sixth and final recommendation is to create opportunity from COVID-19 economic recovery.

“ABAC urges APEC to: encourage governments and international aid programs to evaluate how to best invest in post-COVID-19 economic recovery; further drive plans and initiatives targetting the improvement of basic and crucial connectivity to underserved communities; ensure the dividends of technology-driven growth and prosperity benefits businesses as well as communities.”