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[B-SIDE Podcast] Artificial intelligence: the key to a thriving post-pandemic economy

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Artificial intelligence (AI) may be the key to helping the Philippine economy get back on its feet. Without sufficient technology and automation in place, high-touch human operations are paralyzed. As the world recovers, it will require a re-imagination of human and business processes to future-proof against the next crisis.

In this episode, BusinessWorld reporter Jenina P. Ibanez speaks with Dong Shou, co-founder and chief operating officer of ADVANCE.AI, an artificial intelligence and big-data company headquartered in Singapore.

TAKEAWAYS

AI is essential to the digital transformation of a business.

AI — specifically optical character recognition (OCR, which converts images of typed, handwritten or printed text into machine-encoded text), facial recognition, natural language processing, along with big data analysis — can aid the digital transformation of traditional offline businesses by automating processes and improving productivity.

These technologies also allow machines to sort through big data and improve contactless customer experience.

Imagine walking into a bank without having to present any sort of identification to complete a transaction since you’ve already been vetted by the bank’s facial recognition system.

“Digital transformation is a process. It takes time. You don’t have to go from the beginning to the end in one big step. You can take small steps along the way to your big goal,” said Mr. Shou.

In 2019, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) began drafting the government’s AI roadmap with the help of data scientists. Mr. Shou’s recommendations include upgrading national infrastructure in order to move to 5G networks from 4G; improving national education and emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics); supporting digital startups and entrepreneurs and allowing them to experiment in a regulatory sandbox; fostering a friendly investment climate; and committing public and private support to educate the current workforce.

The shift to digital must be accompanied by increased data security.

Data must be used for clear and specific purposes. For example, respect for patient confidentiality must be maintained even in the online world. Systems must be tested rigorously before they are deployed and government must set up regulations to prevent bad actors from abusing personal data.

BPOs and other labor-intensive industries must upskill and retrain their people. 

Given that the pandemic forced global multinational corporations to reduce their offshore operations, BPOs must upskill and retrain their people, who, in turn, must learn to work with AI systems. “Being able to speak good English, especially for the Philippines, is no longer a big advantage because now we have chatbots which can do the work faster with lower cost,” said Mr. Shou. Released from rote tasks, human beings can focus their energies on high-value tasks that require creativity and critical thinking.

Recorded remotely on April 20. Produced by Nina M. Diaz, Paolo L. Lopez, and Sam L. Marcelo.

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