Asia ‘optimistic’ about impact of AI and robotics

AI will boost competitiveness and spur government innovation, business leaders believe.

Business leaders in Asia believe artificial intelligence and robotics will have “very positive effects” on most industries, a new study by MIT Technology Review shows. The study is based on surveys of over 60 senior business executives in Asia, 24 senior HR professionals, and interviews with technologists and investors in the AI industry. The overall view is that “advances in artificial intelligence would significantly boost Asia’s competitiveness as a manufacturing and service center, benefit government policy makers in their attempts to boost innovation, and increase overall industry growth prospects”, according to the report, Asia’s AI Agenda. Firms are especially positive about AI’s ability to analyse customer data and get better insights on their customers’ needs. The ICT, logistics and manufacturing industries are particularly optimistic. MIT Review - graph The financial services industry is the exception, however. Executives in banking and finance feel less confident that automation and machine learning will have a purely positive effect on their industry. Their relative caution could be due to the lingering effects of the 2007 financial crisis, the study said. Banks are also constantly hit by “mini-crises” from new technologies. For instance, stock prices can fall rapidly due to a combination of human errors and algorithmic trading, with losses of millions of dollars in minutes. Asia is poised for adoption of AI sooner than we think, the study says. Systems in the region have access to massive amounts of data generated from millions of smartphone users in cities. “Data is the most important resource for successful machine learning development,” says Professor Zhang Yue, a machine language researcher at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). However, most of Asia still lacks the technical skills and research facilities to keep up with AI development, the study says. Only 13% of the surveyed companies are investing in AI capabilities in Asia, while 25% are doing so globally. The rate of job loss will be quicker in Asia compared to other regions. “The pace of work displacement in Asia will be at a much faster rate, because of the relatively higher percentage of low-skilled jobs in the labor force relative to more developed economies”, says Tak Lo, founder of a Hong Kong–based AI accelerator. “Asian governments are particularly suspicious of the threat AI poses to their efforts to transform skills in the labor force,” he believes. “Governments should be more focused on ways to retrain displaced workers”, he advises, rather than defend existing jobs from being replaced. In particular, the Singapore Government has taken a cross-government approach to speed up and take advantage of AI development. “Singapore is aligning its policy objectives across multiple sectors”, including transport, finance and healthcare, says Professor Zhang of SUTD.