Southeast Asia

Building an AI-enabled Asean for the intelligent revolution (The Business Times)

TALK of Industry 4.0 started over a decade ago, but public and private enterprises are only just starting to understand the long-term benefits of artificial intelligence (AI).

Despite its reputation as a startup hub, South-east Asia is still in its infancy when it comes to AI, with just 15 per cent of businesses in the advanced stages of AI implementation, according to a Kearney report. In terms of investment, 83 per cent dedicate less than 0.5 per cent of revenue to embedding AI solutions into their operations.

Beyond financial returns, AI can address everyday issues faced by South-east Asians. Millions of un-banked individuals can gain access to affordable loans via machine learning-enabled credit models. Complex supply chains can optimise demand forecasting, production planning, and traceability. Policymakers can rethink urban planning by harnessing geospatial intelligence. In short, the use cases of AI are myriad, multifaceted, and brimming with untapped potential.

However, several big challenges remain in driving widespread AI adoption. The first is inadequate, and often outdated, data infrastructure. Open and public data is imperative for innovation, but governments and businesses in emerging markets often lack a robust and interconnected data ecosystem that allows for collaboration. Compared to more mature, homogenous markets such as Europe and North America, South-east Asia’s diversity also adds another layer of complexity in data hygiene. As such, data collation efforts are less sophisticated and often done commercially instead of at a national level.

AI integration is the opposite of a “get-rich-quick” scheme, with a significant upfront investment required to generate long-term returns that take decades to reap the full benefits of. There are high costs involved in enterprise AI, from implementation to infrastructure management. Unlike mature markets where AI is often used to automate manual and repetitive labour, manpower in emerging nations is more cost-efficient, resulting in a greater hesitancy to invest in technology.

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The Business Times

30 September 2021


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