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Asia’s AI Agenda: Aware, but Unprepared?

Only a small percentage of companies are currently investing in AI development in Asia.

Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from “Asia’s AI Agenda,” a report based on a recent survey of Asia-based senior executives at global organizations. For more about respondents’ opinions on how AI and robotics are affecting Asian business, please begin with the executive summary.

Decision makers at Asian-based companies are firmly convinced of the benefits AI and automation technology will bring to their own prospects and the region’s economy as a whole, but most have not yet committed resources to capitalize on these beliefs.

A small percentage of respondents indicate that they have invested in AI in Asia, and nearly 20 percent say they have robotics and automation commitments in the region. Larger percentages indicate that they have AI or robotics investments at global levels, and fully half indicate that they are considering AI investments.

While multinational companies may not be committing resources to AI development in Asia yet, domestic industries across the region are most certainly doing so, driven by a traditional response of policy makers in the region, according to Tak Lo, a partner at Hong Kong-based AI accelerator Zeroth.AI. “The external shocks that can happen create risk that Asian governments feel they need to take to mitigate with technology progression,” he says.

In China, the hope is to use automation to bolster labor productivity as the country’s workforce ages and shrinks. Over the longer term, China hopes to build a domestic manufacturing capability in industrial robots and, by extension, in process automation and artificial intelligence. Singapore, by contrast “is into a little bit of everything—fintech [financial technology], autonomous driving, automated customer support,” Tak says.

Autonomous driving is considered one of the most likely AI-enabled applications, but largely as an anchor for establishing a broad-based AI innovation platform, says Zhang Yue of the Singapore University of Technology and Design. “Singapore is aligning its policy objectives across multiple sectors—urban mobility, financial data science, health care—in an effort to elicit the synergies across them and speed up AI development overall,” says Zhang, a professor and machine-language researcher.

Asia as a regional economy is poised not only to benefit greatly from advancements in AI and robotics technologies, but to also define them—and perhaps to lead their future development. AI’s rise will create a seismic shift in the processes that senior managers
use to manage talent, growth, and productivity across nearly every industry sector. Asian businesses stand to leverage AI’s rise faster, thanks to the virtuous cycle created by Asia’s technology investments and the organic growth of big data.

Next: Asia’s AI Agenda: Putting the “AI” in “Asia”

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