Artificial intelligence can improve public service delivery in the region, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said.

“ASEAN has the opportunities to leapfrog its cognitive artificial intelligence development,” he said, using the technology in “enhancing its delivery system, for example in healthcare and natural disaster management”.

Prime Minister Razak was speaking at the end of the first day of the two-day US-ASEAN Summit, when leaders met with the CEOs of IBM, Microsoft and Cisco.

The region needs to develop AI further to also make it cheaper for businesses to use it, he added.

However, this could mean that robots will replace jobs in the region, the tech bosses warned. Employees who could lose jobs would have to pick up new skills, the Malaysian Prime Minister added.

Governments in the region have already begun testing artificial intelligence in the public service. Malaysia has built a drone to monitor floods and is testing artificial intelligence to guard prisons. Singapore is testing 25 different drones in its public sector, including to inspect construction sites and monitor mosquito breeding grounds.

However, the region is behind Korea, where the government will invest US$60 million to build fire rescue robots over the next five years.

Image from Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Twitter