PH to establish AI research center

Published May 5, 2021, 4:55 PM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

The Philippines will establish the private sector-led National Center for AI Research (N-CAIR), which is critical to our aspiration to be an “AI Center for Excellence” in the region.

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez

This was emphasized by Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez at the virtual launch of the AI Roadmap, which seeks to ensure the Philippines can unlock opportunities in AI for local businesses. 

“The N-CAIR will serve as the country’s shared hub for AI research that will be instrumental in making the Philippines an AI powerhouse,” said Lopez as he assured that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are part of this initiative.

Serving as home to full-time research scientists and research engineers, Lopez said the N-CAIR will be responsible for advancing scientific discoveries in AI and play a pivotal role in nurturing and developing AI talent and data science leaders. Furthermore, the consultancy services offered by the Center will benefit government agencies, industries, and other research centers in the country. 

In particular, the N-CAIR will encourage companies to adopt AI by building their capacity to produce new products, processes, and services that use AI. The potential AI applications that can benefit companies include avoiding spoilage of agricultural produce, predicting maintenance of equipment, optimizing processes in factories, and enhancing business decision-making through advanced analytics. This will lead to more operational efficiencies and innovation. 

The N-CAIR can also assist our MSMEs interested in using data science, analytics, and AI tools to help them improve their efficiency and productivity. 

Additionally, the Center will support enterprises through the utilization of their data to develop solutions through AI and data-driven science. And rather than set up their own AI R&D centers or spend on expensive equipment, companies can take advantage of the resources and knowledge of the Center as a form of a shared office. 

Another objective of the N-CAIR is to develop the Filipino capability and AI expertise. While the Center’s consultancy will sustain this initiative, those that are learning or working in N-CAIR will become attractive hires for companies. 

More importantly, he said, the Center will engage in R&D projects that will address various socio-economic needs of society. Together with the rolling out of the National ID, the Center is envisioned to be a reliable partner in providing efficient service to 110 million Filipinos.

Responding to the establishment of NCAIR, Rey Untal, president of the IT-Business Process Association of the Philippines aid that NCAIR the most tangible initiative under the AI roadmap. 

“We should go full blast in establishing NCAIR to help catapult the country in terms of recognition that we are evolving ourselves in AI,” he urged.  

Hopefully, he said, NCAIR can help the country’s agenda of generating high value and next gen technologies because there is more room for industry to work with the Center to utilize real life cases for use by companies.

Tirso Ronquillo, president  of Batangas State University, has urged the government to go for the NCAIR establishment faster. He said that State University Knowledge, Innovation, Science & Technology (KIST) Park, the country’s first knowledge-based special economic zone registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, has been able to host startups even during the pandemic.

He said the Batangas State University is needing more startup locators, but they also need infrastructure support from the government. 

Lopez believes that AI can provide socially-relevant solutions to the problems that society faces today. 

“Through the AI Roadmap, we hope to establish the Philippines as an ‘AI Center for Excellence’ in the region that is backed by our rich local talent pool and vibrant innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Our country can also serve as a big data processing hub providing high-value data analytics and AI services to the world, and this can become our next higher value, higher paying service-winner after the BPO industry,” said Lopez. 

The AI Roadmap has four important dimensions. The first is Digitization and Infrastructure that is critical in achieving the strategic goals defined in this roadmap. The second is Research and Development (or R&D), which includes the subset “Investing in Strategic Sectors” and “International Collaboration.” The third is Workforce Development, which will anticipate and prepare our human capital for the potential impact of AI technologies. Finally, the fourth is Regulation, which will protect human rights and put into place equitable AI-activating opportunities. 

In the current era of the global knowledge economy, many countries are now embracing AI to increase their efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness. 

He cited a report by McKinsey revealed that AI could automate about 50 percent of the work activities performed in ASEAN’s four biggest economies, which includes Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the


This is supported by an October 2020 report by research firms EDBI and Kearney, stating that AI is expected to boost Southeast Asia’s GDP by up to $1T by 2030. Likewise, the Kearney analysis estimates a 12 percent increase in the Philippine GDP by 2030, which is equivalent to $92 billion. 

As such, Lopez said the Philippine government is ready to claim the country’s share of this technological opportunity, which would have a tremendous impact on achieving our goals in the updated Philippine Development Plan (or PDP) 2017-2022. 

He said the Roadmap will not only improve the competitiveness of Filipino enterprises, but also engender more affordable, more accessible, and more bespoke public services—including disaster preparedness and management, education, and healthcare.  “For Philippine businesses and industries, AI technologies can reduce operational costs, increase efficiency, grow revenue, and improve customer experience. By deploying the right AI technology, businesses can save time and money by automating and optimizing routine processes and tasks. These are just a few of the advantages that our businesses and industries can derive from AI,” he added.