Artificial intelligence in the Philippines


Monchito Ibrahim

Last week, we talked about the emergence of artificial intelligence or AI, how it is beginning to play an important role in our lives and economy and how it is already having an impact on our world in many different ways. There is now a fierce race not just among companies but also among countries to reap its benefits. Is the Philippines being left behind? Not really, except that it is not considered among the global leaders in the development of AI solutions. But in terms of adoption, we are definitely in the middle of the action. The Philippines today is among the first 50 countries in the world that have launched its National AI Strategy.

Last month, my organization organized the 4th National Analytics and AI Summit. This year marks the first time that the summit is focused on artificial intelligence. We were pleasantly surprised to see tremendous interest in AI as reflected in the attendance which was almost quadruple that of previous years.
The four-day summit started with topics on building the country’s AI ecosystem, how AI is expected to transform the future of work, and the theory of change in adopting AI. Undersecretary Fita Aldaba of the Department of Trade and Industry provided updates on the status of the National AI Strategy implementation.

On the second day, we heard AAP Trustee Undersecretary Kris Ablan present how his previous office used an AI-powered Freedom of Information (FOI) platform that will now make it easy for everyone to access government information. On the same day, we had a couple of panels that talked about AI adoption in the Philippines and ethical considerations in the adoption of AI. Both topics elicited interesting reactions from the participants based on the questions that were raised. Most of us were amazed to learn of the relatively high level of AI adoption in the country but, it also got everyone a bit worried about the ethical considerations we all need to understand.

The third day of the summit was focused on two very important aspects of AI adoption: measuring the readiness of organizations to adopt, and emerging AI-related jobs. Again, it was interesting to find how private and government entities prepare themselves for their AI adoption journey. The session on emerging AI jobs brought out in the open the current realities in procuring AI skills: organizations are struggling with defining what competencies they really need and the dearth of AI skills in the country.
On the last day of the summit, the discussions centered on the readiness of the Filipino workforce to take on AI-related jobs. It looked at the roles and skills needed to do AI from the lens of the hiring companies. It was the turn of the schools to take the hot seats in the last panel where they discussed ways to prepare our education system to produce the AI skills needed by the industry.

The summit brought forth the current state of AI adoption in the country. It gave everyone a good view of where the opportunities and gaps are from different points of view. It was useful for everyone to look at AI through the lens of organizational capabilities rather than technologies. One very important element that we believe was missing in the Philippine AI ecosystem today is AI innovation. The National AI Strategy certainly prescribes several initiatives to address this. Among them is the establishment of the private-sector-led government-initiated National Center for AI Research or NCAIR.

Instead of making the AI sector the next BPO, however, I propose that we should work on making AI improve our country’s efficiency and productivity levels in sectors like agriculture, health, education, and government in addition to business, and industries. It can, however, greatly enhance the efficiency and competitiveness of our BPO sector. We all know that productivity plays a crucial role in the evolution of national economic growth and competitiveness and AI is seen today as an engine for productivity. According to research firm A.T. Kearney, AI adoption can add US$92 billion to the Philippine economy by 2030. That is if we play our cards right. It can help breed the creation of new products and services, industries, and markets, and generate new revenue streams.

The alarmists are emphasizing the loss of jobs to AI forgetting that it will also spawn new jobs. The structure of the workforce and the workplaces will definitely change. It should be viewed as opening doors for new possibilities like newer, better, and high-paying jobs. I see the workforce in an AI-driven organization as taking on roles that make use of human capabilities and at the same time energized by AI. But I also believe we need to address the possibility that this situation will result in increasing the skills divide between those who have been upskilled to take on the new roles and those who do not have the energy and means anymore to get re-skilled.

The author is the lead convenor of the Alliance for Technology Innovators for the Nation (ATIN), vice president of the Analytics Association of the Philippines, and vice president, UP System Information Technology Foundation.