Over the past decades, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been just a promise. Today, that promise is a reality. Almost all businesses recognize how central it is to their growth, with 80% of business leaders in the Asia-Pacific region reporting that AI is instrumental to their organization’s competitiveness. Businesses believe that AI will almost double the rate of innovation by 2021, and the pandemic has only accelerated this trend — with years’ worth of digital transformation unfolding within just a few months.
What is important to note is that not only have entities across the region started to adopt AI, but this transformative technology is also increasingly engrained across a wide range of industries. This year, at the APEC CEO Dialogues, a forum that brings together leaders across all APEC economies for a series of meetings and dialogues, the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) is launching the report “Artificial Intelligence in APEC – Overview of the state of AI in APEC economies and the enabling initiatives that will further drive adoption.” Supported by Microsoft, the report delves into how AI experimentation, innovation, and usage are established in every APEC member economy, across many sectors and all types of businesses and organizations: small, micro or large; for-profit or not- for-profit; public or private.
At Microsoft, we are no strangers to this phenomenon. We have witnessed this proliferation of AI adoption in our daily engagement across the Asia-Pacific, partnering with century-old retailers to evolve their business in Australia, developing an on-board AI assistant for smart all-electric vehicles in China or helping Canada’s national transportation network improve its oversight system. We have observed first-hand how AI is creating new opportunities for economic and social progress across our economies.
The ABAC report explores how, as an emerging technology, AI presents new challenges for policymakers, along with new opportunities for collaboration across APEC. Governments and businesses must collaborate to maximize the benefits of AI and promote inclusive growth while ensuring it is used in a responsible and ethical manner. The report also sets forth several policy recommendations which, we believe, would allow the region’s leaders to harness AI and create thriving economies, particularly as governments move to reboot economies post–COVID.
At Microsoft, we see the opportunity for real and immediate impact if governments act upon these three areas:
- First, take concrete action to build public-private partnerships on AI-related skills. Many of the new job opportunities coming out of the COVID-19 crisis will involve skills necessary for digital technology. Companies like ours are making major commitments to support re-skilling efforts. For example, we announced in June, a commitment to provide new skills to 25 million people by the end of 2020. We can achieve even more impact at scale by partnering with governments across the region.
- Second, collaborate with industry to identify tangible opportunities to improve regulatory coherence and streamline regulations in ways that will unlock AI-related opportunities. For example, we have seen AI-enabled telehealth rise significantly – but there is still more that can be done to address regulatory obstacles to telehealth consultations. Issues like this could be ripe for an APEC Pathfinder initiative, driven by a small group of economies wanting to make short-term progress.
- Third, work intensively between now and the next few months so that in the first part of New Zealand’s host year, a policy and industry hub on AI can be launched. This would bring together industry case studies, best practice policies, and serve as a platform for collaboration between APEC economies on AI. This collaboration should also build upon existing principles of responsible AI already adopted by many economies of the region and offer knowledge sharing on how these principles can be translated into practice. Building trust in AI is instrumental to deliver the benefits of this technology widely to economies and communities.
As we see greater AI adoption and innovation, globally and in our region, policymakers will need to draft new laws, revise existing laws, confront new questions, address new needs, and reassess impact. We must work constructively alongside a multitude of stakeholders to elevate AI’s position on APEC’s agenda. We have an important task to ensure that AI policymaking allows the region to harness the massive opportunities presented, in ways that increase the region’s competitiveness and facilitate regional integration.