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‘AI Center of Excellence’

Ramon Lopez (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2021 - 12:00am

The National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Roadmap is set to guide the Philippines into becoming an “AI Center of Excellence,” which would ensure that our people will benefit from the rising AI global industry.

In the current era of the global knowledge economy, many countries are now embracing AI to increase their efficiency, productivity and competitiveness. A report by McKinsey revealed that AI could “automate about 50 percent of the work activities performed in ASEAN’s four biggest economies,” which includes Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. This could open up opportunities in the region.

This is supported by an October 2020 report by research firms EDBI and Kearney, stating that AI is expected to boost Southeast Asia’s GDP by up to $1 trillion by 2030. Likewise, the Kearney analysis estimates a 12 percent increase in the Philippine GDP by 2030, which is equivalent to $92 billion.

AI is expected to revolutionize many aspects of our daily lives within the next decade. For one, the automotive industry will most likely be able to practically perfect autonomous vehicle technology. Meanwhile, AI-driven precision farming can drastically decrease losses due to pests and natural disasters, while also increasing significantly outputs of high value products per hectare of land. As such, the Philippine government is ready to claim the country’s share of this technological opportunity, which would have a tremendous impact on achieving our goals in the updated Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022.

The AI Roadmap embodies our strategy of national preparedness to maximize the benefits from employing AI technologies and developing AI economies. We expect our Roadmap to not only improve the competitiveness of our enterprises, but also engender more affordable, more accessible and more bespoke public services – including disaster preparedness and management, education and health care.

More importantly, this strategy will mobilize resources to increase AI adoption and utilization in the country to advance our industrial development and generate better quality entrepreneurship and higher paying employment opportunities for our people. These lead to the realization of President Duterte’s dream of giving Filipinos a comfortable and higher quality of life.

All this underlines the commitment of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to innovation, whether through our Inclusive Innovation Industrial Strategy (i3S) or providing strong support for legislation that push for it. In fact, the AI Roadmap is a key manifestation of the landmark Philippine Innovation Act, or Republic Act No. 11293. This aforementioned law promotes innovation and internationalization activities of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as drivers of sustainable and inclusive growth. In this light, AI can be seen as accelerating innovation and removing disruptions in businesses and enterprises – as well as in the overall well-being of Philippine communities.

DTI believes AI can provide socially-relevant solutions to the problems that our society faces today. Through the AI Roadmap, we hope to establish the Philippines as an “AI Center of Excellence” in the region that is backed by our rich local talent pool and vibrant innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Our country can also serve as a big data processing hub providing high-value data analytics and AI services to the world, and this can become our next higher value, higher paying service-winner, after the BPO industry.

While there is this fear that AI will automate so many jobs that millions of Filipinos might find themselves unemployed, this fear should instead be viewed as opportunities for new possibilities. The structure of the workforce will change. Newer, better and higher income jobs will emerge. AI will also allow us to create a knowledge-based economy, which we can leverage to create a more inclusive and prosperous society.

In the rush of creativity and imagination, the shift toward AI-based systems will likely cause the economy to add jobs that facilitate this transition. AI will create more wealth than it destroys, with more Filipinos engaging in finding solutions, establishing new startups and experimenting on numerous business applications and consumer uses. AI will lead to creative destruction, which would lead more businesses to innovate, generate new forms of higher-paying jobs and create more sources in the process.

This brings us to the important task on our country’s journey towards an AI-driven future. That is, we need to build the educational infrastructure conducive to reskilling and upskilling the workforce along a lifelong learning framework. We also need to improve the education and training systems to deliver the necessary skills required in a digital economy. The AI Roadmap has four important dimensions.

The first is Digitization and Infrastructure that is critical in achieving the strategic goals defined in this roadmap. The second is Research and Development (or R&D), which includes the subset “Investing in Strategic Sectors” and “International Collaboration.” The third is Workforce Development, which will anticipate and prepare our human capital for the potential impact of AI technologies. Finally, the fourth is Regulation, which will put into place equitable AI-activating opportunities.

Under the R&D dimension of the AI Roadmap, we will establish the private sector-led National Center for AI Research (or N-CAIR), which is critical to our aspiration to be an “AI Center for Excellence” in the region. The N-CAIR will serve as the country’s shared hub for AI research that will be instrumental in making the Philippines an AI powerhouse. Serving as home to full-time research scientists and research engineers, the N-CAIR will be responsible for advancing scientific discoveries in AI and play a pivotal role in nurturing and developing AI talent and data science leaders.

Furthermore, the consultancy services offered by the Center will benefit government agencies, industries and other research centers in the country. In particular, the N-CAIR will encourage companies to adopt AI by building their capacity to produce new products, processes and services that use AI. The potential AI applications that can benefit companies include avoiding spoilage of agricultural produce, predicting maintenance of equipment, optimizing processes in factories and enhancing business decision-making through advanced analytics. This will lead to more operational efficiencies and innovation.

The N-CAIR can also assist our MSMEs interested in using data science, analytics and AI tools to help them improve their efficiency and productivity. Additionally, the Center will support enterprises through the utilization of their data to develop solutions through AI and data-driven science. In other words – Research-based Innovations. And rather than set up their own AI R&D centers or spend on expensive equipment, companies can take advantage of the resources and knowledge of the Center as a form of a shared service.

Another objective of the N-CAIR is to develop the Filipino capability and AI expertise. The Center will engage in R&D projects that will address various socio-economic needs of society. In other words – Market-driven Research. Thus, we shall have: Research-based Innovations + Market-driven Research!

In crafting the AI Roadmap, we would like to recognize data scientists Dr. Christopher Monterola and Dr. Erika Legara of the Aboitiz School of Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (ASITE) from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). Dr. Monterola and Dr. Legara provided us with research and analyses in preparing the Roadmap. They also helped us put together a comprehensive plan consisting of pillars, dimensions, strategic imperatives and tasks that lay down the foundation of an AI-driven Philippines.

In conclusion, as we launch the country’s AI Roadmap, we signal to the world our eagerness and readiness to take on the opportunities of the digital age and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Through AI technologies, we will create a modern, dynamic and responsible Philippines wherein our people can benefit from more and better entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. Embracing the future of an AI-driven Philippines will further nurture an inclusive, creative, collaborative and entrepreneurial generation of Filipinos now and tomorrow.

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Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez was keynote speaker at the recent launch of the AI Roadmap.

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