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By Miguel Hanz L. Antivola, Reporter

Philippine organizations should prioritize a people-centric approach when adopting artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies for growth, according to experts.

“The biggest challenge in [harnessing] new technology is understanding human beings and how humans make choices,” Vivienne L’Ecuyer Ming, neuroscientist and founder of policy think tank Socos Labs, said during a discussion hosted by creative business school Hyper Island on Friday.

She noted that AI is only a tool that can enable everyone to take part in the economy. “It is in our own interest to pull as many of us in the transformed world.”

“It will soon be very hard to cross the growing chasm between routine and the ‘creative’ economy,” she added on the capacity of AI to generate adaptive problem explorers.

The International Data Corp. said the Philippines ranked 12th out of 14 economies across the Asia-Pacific region in terms of AI adoption for business and consumer transactions.

The Trade department projected that AI could contribute as much as $90 billion to the country’s economy by 2030.

A report released by technology firm Cisco this month said only 17% of Philippine organizations are ready to utilize and deploy AI, with the majority of them raising concerns about the impact of not adopting these advances.

It added that about 44% of Philippine organizations consider themselves chasers or are only moderately prepared; 35% are followers with limited levels of preparedness; and about 4% are laggards, not prepared to leverage AI at all.

However, AI adoption must not be unbounded to avoid unintended consequences, Ms. Ming said, urging leaders to start by observing the problems they aim to solve with AI personally, and not through a dataset or algorithm.

Leah Camilla R. Besa-Jimenez, chief data privacy officer at PLDT, Inc., noted AI having increased the company’s customer service productivity by 33% over the last six months.

“It is a tool that requires us to govern it properly and be critical about the amount of data it accesses,” she said. “It requires a lot of scrutiny. For us, we even went down to the call path to ensure that we are not creating biases with how we respond.”

Jack Madrid, IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines president, said AI can be a disruptive and powerful tool, yet “it does not have the judgment-sensitive and creative prowess of a human.”

“There is no one size fits all,” he added on advocating lifelong learning in the industry through short vocational domain knowledge courses to leverage AI.

Angie Tijam-Tohid, executive creative director at communications solutions agency Havas Ortega Group, noted how her company is trying to build an open-to-learning approach to AI use.

“The best scenario [for the industry] is a hybrid where humans work with AI and policies that will support its ethics,” she added.

PLDT’s Ms. Jimenez said policy creation is urgent as AI allows potential intrusion and surveillance into people’s lives, adding that it is also incumbent on users to govern themselves properly.

“If it was me being assessed [by AI], how would I want to be treated?” she said on promoting self-governance while policy is catching up.

“A company needs to make sure every solution it makes has traceability to immediately see potential missteps and make the proper corrections if ever,” she added.

Donald Lim, chief innovation officer at holding company Udenna Corp., noted speed and scale as integral to the country’s overall AI adoption strategy.

“Get the fundamentals correct first. Start with basic excellence,” he said to organizations which find it hard to figure out emerging technologies.

“AI is an amplifier, but it will not solve your problem,” he added. “If you focus on what AI will do, then you will lose focus on what you should be doing.”

“Garbage in, garbage out,” Ms. Jimenez said as a general principle to AI’s mechanism and adoption. “You cannot expect a tool to solve your problems.”

“[AI] could democratize and be the leveler of the playing field, but we need to move fast,” IBPAP’s Mr. Madrid said.

Mr. Lim said AI can catapult the Philippines into the global stage if each sector cultivates the capacities of the country’s great minds.

“We just have to start doing it now,” he added.