Tech sector can make Philippines a developed country, data scientist says

Audrey Morallo - Philstar.com
Tech sector can make Philippines a developed country, data scientist says
The country's technology industry will catapult the Philippines to become a developed country, according to data scientist Stephanie Sy.
Philstar.com / Erwin Cagadas

MANILA, Philippines — The technology sector is what will drive Philippines to become a developed country, a data scientist and founder of a data science start-up has said, as she underscored the immense potential the nascent sector offers to Filipinos.

Stephanie Sy, the founder and CEO of data science startup Thinking Machines, said that Philippines had the raw talent to develop its technology industry which could help the country in many aspects of development.

“Technology and the tech sector are what’s going to take the Philippines from developing to developed. That’s the dream,” Sy said in an interview with Philstar.com.

Sy said that she would like Thinking Machines to be at the forefront of this effort and cooperate with the rest of the industry to build the needed ecosystem for the sector to thrive.

The Thinking Machines founder, together with four other Filipinos, was recently included in the 2018 Forbes' "30 under 30 Asia" list which recognizes young innovators in the region.

Sy, who was born in the Philippines, went to Stanford College in the US and worked for a few techology startups there before working for Google.

She came back to the Philippines in 2013 with the idea of bringing back some of the things she learned there.

She said that the Philippines could not follow the path some Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan took as they established a strong manufacturing sector from the technology from the US and other Western countries.

The Thinking Machines chief said that unlike in the US where data and data science were extensively applied, the Philippines was just beginning to see the benefits that these could provide its industries and economy.

She shared that one big challenge that they faced in introducing data science to the local market was cultural and convincing individuals and decision-makers about the idea that they should base their decisions on scientific information.

“The biggest problem is most companies don’t have orderly data sets. They are used to using data in real-time. It’s a lot more guesswork,” she said.

Vice President Leni Robredo recently stressed the role technology played in the country’s economic development and highlighted the challenges that technological changes could pose to the Philippines’ policy-makers.

She said that the Philippines was not yet ready for sudden shifts in technology and industry as she recognized that this was not high on many people’s agenda.

“[I]t’s not something that you confront, you can confront without any preparations. We have to start training our people with skills that machines cannot yet approximate now,” Robredo recently said in a forum at the London School of Economics.

Sy said that they had formal and informal partnerships with educational institutions in the Philippines to help hone the skills of students in data science.

She added that they also were working with the civic sector and some government departments to create systems that could help them make good policy decisions.

When asked if they were open to working with politicians, she answered, “Politics is a whole new ballgame entirely. We really stayed away from that. We believe that we can best serve the people by creating the system for good decision-making no matter who’s elected.”

Sy stressed that despite its imperfections the Philippines was still the country she cared about the most and she believed that it could become better.

“Let’s give the Philippines a chance. It can be better,” she said.

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