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Asia’s AI agenda: The ecosystem

The region is poised to become a frontrunner in the development and adoption of artificial intelligence, a new study finds.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has quite possibly been the most widely discussed technology theme of 2018. The projections for how these new big data, machine learning, and automation capabilities will transform cities, companies, and societies are startling, and causing policymakers and business leaders around the world to plan for a future where AI is a core competency. Experts increasingly view technological readiness, particularly having a sophisticated AI base, as a determinant of future competitiveness for nations and for companies.

Asian governments have ambitious plans for leadership in the AI era, and this white paper explores the success they are having in building fertile ecosystems that will attract much-needed AI talent and capital, as well as allowing companies to apply AI quickly and effectively across their organizations. MIT Technology Review Insights surveyed 871 Asia-based senior executives to gather perspectives, and conducted in-depth interviews with more than a dozen global experts in the field. Here are the key findings of this research:

Asia's AI agenda: The ecosystem
  • With much to gain, most countries have a national plan for accelerating AI adoption. From China to Japan, Singapore to India, policymakers across Asia are developing national-level plans for how AI can be used to enhance domestic and regional competitiveness, which include public and private sector collaboration.
  • Asia has credible potential for becoming a front runner in the AI era. Business leaders in Asia are positive about the AI resources available in the region, particularly the availability of data and quality of talent. More can be done to bolster the R&D environment, and governments can still provide greater support.
  • China is rapidly applying AI, but basic research lags. The abundance of data, firm government push, and highly innovative tech companies give China a distinct advantage in applying AI to a variety of domains, such as health care and finance, and across mobile platforms. Yet foundational research can be strengthened by further integrating private sector and academic R&D.
  • Building digital economies and digital societies is a key to competitiveness. Asia’s domestic challenges and industries are providing focal points for the development of AI. In southeast Asia, this is taking shape in economic future-proofing, through a networking effect that stems from investments in startups, matching business problem statements with research talent, and developing a broad base of AI knowledge.
  • The big issues include securing foundational assets and managing AI’s evolution. To become self-sufficient in the advancement of AI, Asia must strengthen its research environment and underlying capabilities, such as chipmaking and supercomputing strength. Additionally, policymakers need to tackle tricky questions such as how to manage the social contract between citizens (the creators of data) and the companies that capture it.

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