It’s no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) is set to change the world as we know it, with each and every advancement in the arena impacting how the way we work, the way we shop, the way we communicate and ultimately the way we live.
In recent years, a number of different industries have started to realise the potential for AI and integrate the technology into their operations; dramatically boosting productivity and opening up a world of possibility.
The main development hubs for AI are the US and China however, Singapore is starting to catch up – living up to its reputation as a nation at the cutting edge of technological advancements.
Throughout the rest of the ASEAN region, apart from Vietnam and Malaysia where some progress has been made, adoption rates have thus far been slow. Many countries realise the potential the technology has to offer but lack the critical infrastructure to properly capitalise on the benefits.
But, with startups continuing to flock to the region, a large millennial population and regional-wide commitments from governments to invest in and legislate for Industry 4.0; real change is on the horizon. Adoption rates for AI have already grown for 8 percent to 14 percent in the last year, according to a report by IDC.
Here, we take a look at the impact artificial intelligence is having across four key sectors across Southeast Asia.
eCommerce is big business in Southeast Asia, with Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand generating US$14.8 billion in online sales throughout 2016. In the same year, Lazada Group - a Singaporean online marketplace that is Southeast Asia’s answer to Amazon – reported US$1.36 billion in annual sales and is now the biggest eCommerce operator in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.
Like their counterparts in the West, both online and offline retailers are keen to move with the times and offer their customers a new shopping experience that reflects the digital age we now live in.
With 97 million mobile phones in circulation throughout Thailand, it’s unsurprising that consumers are used to turning to their phones for help, instead of seeking out a real person. Smart phones now come fully equipped with AI assistants and every retailer from Starbucks to supermarkets now use chatbots to engage with their customers.
Gartner predicts that 25 percent of customer questions will be handled by AI by the year 2020, freeing up today’s human sales assistants from the monotony of answering the same query 30 times a day. AI can also be used to predict questions before they’ve been asked and ultimately improve the customer service experience for most shoppers.
AI can also be deployed within the retail sector to help personalise purchasing recommendations for customers whilst helping retailers to optimise pricing and discount strategies, alongside demand forecasting.
This year, Lazada launched an AI driven app that takes away the emphasis from pre-set categories and instead uses machine-learning algorithms to show off products that the user might be interested in based on purchase and viewing history.
Much like the retail sector, organisations operating within the financial services have primarily been using AI to improve the customer service experience. One such example is the deployment of IBM Watson in Hong Leong Bank of Malaysia to analyse the emotion of customers by the way they speak on the telephone.
While Singapore is leading the technological charge in this arena, the ASEAN bloc has been slow on the uptake when it comes to some of the more advanced use cases for artificial intelligence. Financial institutes throughout America and China have already started to develop AI that can be applied to functions such as credit scoring and investment predictions.
Some argue that emerging technology on that level is best left to the FinTech startups that the region is continuing to attract.
Singapore based startup CashShield, for example, uses real-time high-frequency algorithms with biometric analysis and pattern recognition to help companies manage the risk of fraudulent accounts and payments. Claiming to be the world’s only fully machine automated fraud management system, its algorithm trains itself in real time, functioning without the need for any data scientist or fraud analyst.
However, not every country in the bloc is as technological savvy as Singapore, with most first needing to accelerate basic digitisation efforts; streamlining their data collection, management and analytics processes before than can start feeding the information into complex AI algorithms.
Ultimately, most of the AI developments in the financial services will emerge from FinTech startups, it’s up to the established institutions throughout the region to keep up with these developments or risk losing their business to digital disruption.
Across the globe, the potential for AI in healthcare has already been demonstrated to the public. Complex machine learning algorithms have helped to speed up how long it takes to review data relating to serious illnesses, allowing doctors to diagnose and treat patients more efficiently than ever before.
Healthcare in Southeast Asia varies from country to country but on the whole combines state funded care with private, insurance-led options. One of the biggest healthcare insurers in Singapore, NTUC Income, has already deployed IBM Watson to digitally process almost 15,000 monthly claims.
The uses of AI have also been embraced by the government in Singapore, with one state agency using the technology to analyse patient data that has been inputted from a number of different healthcare systems. The system should help to improve diagnostic outcomes and generate greater insights into potential treatments.
Malaysia is to healthcare startups what Singapore is to FinTech, with many of these emerging companies developing AI-based solutions to help improve the access people have to healthcare professionals. Getdoc, Door2Door Doctor, Teleme, HomeGP, Healthmetrics, and BookDoc are all Malaysian healthcare startups that use AI algorithms to help predict your medical needs, customise your healthcare plan and increase your access to medical advice.
However, similar to the financial services industry, the majority of healthcare institutions throughout Southeast Asia still rely heavily on legacy systems and are often unable to cope with the data demands needed to successfully implement AI technologies.
While progress is still slow in the education sector, the potential that exists within it for AI is unquestionable. Globally, 5% of GDP is being spent on education and those in the know are already predicting that investment in EdTech will reach $250 billion by 2020.
Once again, AI chatbots and even artificially intelligent classroom assistants are proving useful in this sector, removing some of the pressure form teachers and allowing them to focus more on the job of teaching and less on monotonous and repetitive tasks.
In the field of AI analytics, universities in Singapore and Malaysia have started to experiment with predictive algorithms designed to reduce the number of dropouts by allowing for earlier interventions.
Once again, there are only a select few countries throughout the ASEAN region that have really started to embrace the potential for AI in the education sector. One of the biggest current hindrances is a lack of consistent quality in IT infrastructure throughout the bloc, with some reports showing that large numbers of the ASEAN population still don’t have access to the internet.
Consequently, it’s important for these countries to focus on how the technology that is already available can be enhanced, rather than replaced by AI; leading to an improvement in not only the quality of education but also who can access it.