The global economy is undergoing disruptive changes prompted by the emergence and adoption of technologies such as mobile and cloud computing, cryptocurrency, the Internet of Things, autonomous driving system and artificial intelligence (AI). While these innovations have raised a wide variety of concerns, including fear of widespread job losses, they have no doubt been instrumental in the creation of better and often cheaper products and services and enabling start-ups to challenge the dominance of established players, at least in industries where barriers to entry are low. And the possibilities they offer are exhilarating.

Last May 30, BusinessWorld, the country’s most read and most respected business newspaper, held its fourth Economic Forum at the Grand Hyatt Manila in Taguig City, which revolved around the theme “The Future of Business: Next-wave Disruptions & Opportunities.” The fourth and final session of the day-long conference that drew hundreds of participants focused on next-generation technologies and the future of economy.

That session featured five prominent personalities in the local business community: Andrés Ortola, country general manager of Microsoft Philippines; Kevin Andrew Tan, chief executive officer of Alliance Global Group, Inc., a conglomerate with interests in food and beverage and real estate industries, among others; Maria Francesca Tan, chief executive officer of the MFT Group of Companies, a private equity firm; Jojo Gendrano, first vice-president and head of core business solutions at PLDT Enterprise, the business-to-business arm of PLDT; and Aileen Judan-Jiao, president and country general manager of IBM Philippines.

Andrés Ortola, country general manager of Microsoft Philippines

Artificial intelligence, on which his presentation centered, was described by Mr. Ortola as a game-changer. Microsoft, he noted, believes that artificial intelligence does three significant things: empower developers to innovate, empower organizations to transform industries and empower people to transform society.

There are now millions of developers using Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services that help them “build intelligent applications without having direct AI or data science skills or knowledge,” a page on Microsoft’s Web site explains. “The goal of Azure Cognitive Services is to help developers create applications that can see, hear, speak, understand, and even begin to reason.”

Mr. Ortola showed some findings of a 2019 study conducted by Microsoft and IDC Asia/Pacific, a provider of market intelligence and advisory services, that suggested that AI would accelerate the rate of innovation improvements in the Philippines.

Of the 1,605 business leaders in the Asia-Pacific region who participated in the study, 109 were from the Philippines. When these Philippine-based business leaders were asked the question, “With the introduction of AI, what is the percentage of additional new innovative products and services your organization expect[s] to produce today and in three years from now?” their answers were 32% and 56%, respectively.

The study also suggested that AI would nearly double employee productivity gains in the country. The respondents saw a 27% improvement in productivity gains among employees today and expected that number to increase to 52% in 2021.

When it comes to using AI to transform societies, Mr. Ortola brought up their company’s “AI for Good” program. One project of that program is “Seeing AI,” an app that “narrates the world around you.” Designed for the “low vision community,” it harnesses the power of AI to describe people, text and objects.

Aileen Judan-Jiao, president and country general manager of IBM Philippines

Meanwhile, according to Ms. Judan-Jiao, the market is entering a new chapter in cloud and digital; whereas the first chapter is all about consumer-driven innovation, digital and AI experimentation and public cloud, the second chapter concerns enterprise-driven innovation, the embedding of digital and AI in the business and hybrid cloud.

She noted that unprecedented technological, social and regulatory disruptions are giving rise to the next era of business reinvention, with business platforms at its heart.

She devoted the rest of her talk to automation, and how intelligent automation in particular is reshaping the future of work, and how industries, from insurance (for underwriting risk and modelling) to telecommunications (for predictive maintenance) to health care (for sepsis outcome prediction), are embracing AI. She also remarked on the potential of quantum computing to revolutionize entire industries, like pharmaceuticals and transportation.

Maria Francesca Tan, chief executive officer of the MFT Group of Companies

In her presentation, Ms. Tan provided a list of industries that she thinks are worth investing in: health care, finance, industrial, food and beverage and technology. To be able to meet tomorrow’s challenges, she offered two solutions that companies may want to consider: evolve through robust internal operating controls and processes and evolve through value creation and operational excellence. She also listed the three trends that would shape the future of investment: artificial intelligence, health tech and co-working.

Jojo Gendrano, first vice-president and head of core business solutions
at PLDT Enterprise

Mr. Gendrano, in his talk, noted how mobile technology has made a leap roughly every 10 years (from 2G to 3G to LTE and now to 5G). 5G, the fifth-generation cellular network technology, promises Internet speeds that are multiple times faster than 4G currently offers. It was also noted in his presentation that 5G is “ultra-reliable” and able to support low-latency communications.

Technology, according to Mr. Tan, is evolving faster than our needs, and it enables brands to enjoy a competitive edge and a positive reputation.

Kevin Andrew Tan, chief executive officer of Alliance Global Group, Inc.

He discussed some business trends during his presentation. The first is that people nowadays are always connected, spending hours on the web and checking their phones frequently. Another is the emergence of an on-demand society, in which businesses are valued based on the speed of their response. Then there’s the sharing economy. The fourth trend Mr. Tan mentioned is the social impact that customers today look for. He noted that people consider the value a business brings to the society and that businesses with positive impact grow faster.

Mr. Tan went on to discuss some endeavors of Alliance Global companies. One of the companies under the conglomerate, McDonald’s Philippines, is making customer experience in its stores more interactive through digital technologies. Meanwhile, Megaworld Corp. has been integrating smart home technology into its properties, like The Albany in Taguig City.