Transforming an archipelago into an AI superpower

 |   Jean-Philippe Courtois, Executive Vice President and President of Microsoft National Transformation Partnerships 

It always excites me to return to Indonesia and see the dynamism of the world’s fourth most populous nation. Today, startup culture flourishes across the nation, with at least 14 ‘unicorns’ – companies valued at more than US$1 billion. A young, tech-savvy population is proliferating on high-speed broadband, smartphones, and social media. The challenge is immense to connect more than 270 million people across 38 provinces and 17,000 islands, yet digital technology offers the potential to drive the aspirations of this extraordinary archipelago.

Of course, challenges exist as well. Indonesia must contend with an uneasy post-COVID recovery, inequality and social divides, and vulnerability to climate and cyber risks. However, a brighter future is possible in which Indonesia’s government and enterprises digitally transform while its citizens race to upskill in significant numbers to fill the roles required.

Our commitment to Indonesia

In 2021 I took part in Microsoft’s announcement that we would establish a local data center region as part of our Berdayakan Ekonomi Digital Indonesia initiative. It is no coincidence that I am visiting the country in 2023 – a year marked in Asia and beyond as one of rapid advances in generative AI.

Having operated here since 1995, Microsoft is deeply committed to Indonesia. This means sharing our accumulated learnings and resources in a spirit of humility and gotong royong (partnership). We are working with governments, NGOs, educational institutions, industries, and firms to accelerate cloud and AI adoption, and invest in the workforce. Our target is to help an additional 1.5 million Indonesians access digital skills learning and resources by the end of 2024, taking their rightful place in a digital economy forecast to be Southeast Asia’s largest by 2030.

Dating back to some of our earliest research priorities, Microsoft has delivered AI breakthroughs in vision, speech, language, decision-making, and custom machine learning. AI is fast becoming the catalyst for inclusive growth: innovations that tackle society’s most pressing challenges and improve people’s lives.

In Indonesia, we are harnessing AI in a smart city project with leading property developer Sinar Mas Land, starting with BSD City in the Greater Jakarta region. This involves consolidating urban data in sectors such as transport, energy, water resources, waste collection, and security, backed by the trusted Microsoft cloud platform. By deploying AI and advanced analytics, we can optimize delivery of public services and make better real-time decisions to improve residents’ quality of life.

Democratizing AI

Yet the rise of generative AI – in which reams of language, code, or even literature and art are generated in response to prompts – also promises something different. An AI-powered ability to discover new insights in large data sets will also drive incredible advances in medicine and science, benefitting all in society. It will enhance almost every sector of the economy in meaningful ways. This will democratize AI, putting creative capabilities in the hands of every person and organisation. Based on Microsoft’s 2023 Work Trend Index, which surveyed 31,000 people across 31 countries, 75 per cent of respondents in Indonesia would delegate as much work as possible to AI to lighten their workloads. The promise is to remove the drudgery of repetitive tasks at work, so people can spend more time being creative, innovative, and productive.

This is a transition available to all, making the promise of Digital Indonesia truly inclusive. It is why, in 2023, we are infusing generative AI into every Microsoft experience, from Microsoft 365 Copilot to our Dynamics content relationship management system and our Bing search engine. If you are a villager on an outlying island typing on our Office suite, the benefits could be as simple as email coaching tips, automated list generators, or real-time sticky notes that help structure the information you need. For entrepreneurs across regions, Azure OpenAI Service provides a secure platform to develop the next wave of AI-powered websites, solutions, and apps.

Outstanding collaborations

I am proud to note some of the super-creative Indonesian startups choosing the Microsoft platform and joining us on this journey. Building their solutions on Azure OpenAI Service, Botika, headquartered in Yogyakarta, offers AI assistant that can interact in text and voice using modern communication channels.  And then Feedloop, a Bandung-based startup, leverages Azure OpenAI service to offer a comprehensive suite of tools for customers’ engagement and empowers users to effortlessly create AI-powered applications across diverse use cases, using a no-code approach.

Those are only a few examples. With Indonesia being home to almost 2,500 startups, we are excited to empower them to achieve more and truly democratize AI for everyone.

Responsibly focused on the future

These are early days in the evolution of generative AI. As a trusted cloud partner, and one of the world’s first AI companies, Microsoft is at the forefront of balancing this technology’s opportunities, ethical responsibilities, and risks.

Looking back to a decade ago, the development of a new governance system for the new technology is a field that was barely existed. But today, Microsoft has almost 350 employees specializing in it, and we are investing in our next fiscal year to grow this further.Just recently, we also released a report titled Governing AI: A Blueprint for the Future. In the report, we detailed out five ways governments should consider policies, laws, and regulations around AI. We also shared Microsoft’s internal commitment to ethical AI, showing how we operationalize and build a culture of responsible AI.

We believe that forging a responsible future for AI is a collective journey. And the horizon for us is clear – a Copilot for every cloud experience, amplifying human ingenuity with products already used by Microsoft customers, and then creating exponential value by cascading generative AI into new applications for every person, organisation, and industry.

That adds up to an Indonesia firmly focused on the future – a nation growing together and a regional AI superpower. Truly, it’s great to be back.