Filipinos should embrace — not fear — AI, expert says

By Edd K. Usman

Filipinos should not fear artificial intelligence (AI). Instead, they should embrace it and consider it an ally.

This according to Sandeep Aneja, managing partner and founder of Kaizen Private Equity, during an interview at the recently concluded Digital Strategies and Development Forum (DSDF) 2017 organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) at the ADB headquarters in Mandaluyong City.

Kaizen's Sandeep Aneja: AI's purpose in the near future is to augment human effectiveness."

Kaizen founder and managing partner Sandeep Aneja

“We want to view AI as an entity that can help us better as a society and it will happen,” Aneja said, adding that AI is misunderstood and seen as a threat because it is still an emerging technology.

In his the keynote speech at the ADB forum, Aneja said that ​the 4th version of the Industrial Revolution is “the coming together of many technologies that exist today, but which are becoming cheaper, more available, and more able to change our lives.”

The Kaizen founder cited the Internet as example. When the Internet was new it was very expensive, he said, with people paying $30 (about P1,500) a month to access the Web. But today Wi-Fi is almost free.

“The ​Fourth Industrial Revolution is the coming together of multiple technologies to make technology cheaper, more readily available, and more disruptive to the people​,” he said.

Aneja also emphasized how AI can be leveraged to train people better for the long term, especially in the light of the projected job losses, especially in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

“If we can do that together then there’s an opportunity for us that will end up creating more jobs,​ ​not losing ​them. If we view AI as threat, ignore it, AI will run us over and we will lose jobs. That’s definite,” he said. ​

He also conceded that AI could also turn out to be a “digital Frankenstein.”​ ”It can be,” he said, adding that “AI is not yet defined, understood by most. So, it appears to be a threat because it is not fully understood, that’s number one. Number two, AI’s purpose in the near future, and the near future is five years, is to augment human effectiveness, not to replace.”​

​The Kaizen executive ​explained further. “For the next five years, there will be very little replacement​,​ at least​, ​​in call centers because of AI itself alone. AI will enable better quality service, lower cost in service, and the ability of individuals to get AI to work and make AI ​(much) ​better. ​That’s what will happen​,” said Aneja.

Once AI can perform human tasks more efficiently, the workers replaced by AI will still be needed to serve consumers of newly-created devices. Demand for BPO employees in the Philippines would rise as new devices will give way to more questions as more people will become consumers of those devices.

“So, as the number of consumers rises, the requirement for BPO employees in the Philippines is going to rise much more than you can imagine as technology becomes way cheaper,” he said.

At present, he said everybody is ignoring the demand side of emerging technologies like AI.

But Aneja said all BPO employees will need to learn to be creative as the requirements (for BPO workers) increase. Those handling mundane tasks, answering routine questions will be “exceptions.”

“Therefore, all the employees will have to learn to be creative, will have to learn to be able to handle exceptions in the portfolio, and not just answer questions which are repeatedly asked by customers.”

Both the public and the private sectors still have enough time to transform their employees’ job descriptions and give them training for re-skilling.

One way of doing this is for the government and the public sector to become much more open-minded about learning.

“Government has to really understand, in this stage, globally, that acquiring a degree is not a skill,” said Aneja, at the same time pointing out that education can be acquired online or offline.

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