Bangladesh in the age of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence or AI, which appears to be the newest and most exciting frontier in science and engineering, attempts to emulate humans in performing complex tasks by means of learning, adapting and automation. Alan Turing, who is widely considered to be the father of artificial intelligence, presented his ground-breaking Turing Test in 1950 setting a benchmark for AI. In order to be intelligent, a system needs to have certain capabilities—including natural language processing, knowledge representation, automated reasoning, machine learning, computer vision, and robotics. It was proposed that these six technology branches would collectively form an AI and surprisingly, all six components remain relevant today even after 70 years.
Today we are at the crossroads of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and AI is gradually occupying the centre stage of this unprecedented transformation. It is no wonder that all the tech giants are now involved in a relentless race to surpass each other in acquiring superior AI capabilities, while their non-tech clients and partners are heavily embracing AI to sharpen their competitive edges. Harvard Business Review in one of its recent editions suggested that companies should look at AI through the lens of business capabilities rather than a mere collection of technologies. Thus, AI should be integrated as one of the core components of any complex business process instead of being categorised as a supporting tool. Specifically, AI can cater to three important business needs: process automation, extraction of cognitive insights, and cognitive engagement with clients and employees. Interestingly, AI applications are no longer restricted to corporations, but is gradually encompassing a variety of domains, from farming to manufacturing, hospitality to healthcare, public services to professional services, judiciary to defence and others. Innumerable examples of successful AI applications can be cited to demonstrate the and ubiquity of AI and its far‑reaching and profound impacts.
It is now obvious that AI has started to fundamentally disrupt the way we live and work. This will continue to happen in the foreseeable future with even greater speed, intensity and coverage. As AI penetrates every sphere of human life, it is imperative for us to formulate a roadmap to see the opportunities and identify its likely threats. Like any other technology, AI is neither an unmixed blessing nor a silver bullet for all our problems. Rather, AI poses some genuine concerns that must be addressed with appropriate strategies.
Unlike the preceding automation boom, AI is not only taking over the routine back-office roles or blue‑collar jobs but also threatening to pervade the cognitive domain that has traditionally been under human control for thousands of years. Now the question arises, what approach is suitable for a developing country like Bangladesh? Should we turn a blind eye to AI? We can't afford to ignored it because the powerful AI-wave generated on both sides of the Atlantic is transcending continents and is not far from reaching Bangladesh. As a matter of fact, an AI-driven world is no more a matter of choice but an irreversible destiny that we are all heading towards. Nevertheless, we should not blindly follow other nations in adopting AI applications. Instead, we should frame policies and strategies which are commensurate with our own needs, necessities and priorities. For instance, we have a large young population and as such, we wouldn't want a big chunk of the available jobs to be taken over by AI. Hence, we should choose those problems for applying AI at the first phase that we haven't been able to solve with the traditional approaches and age-old systems. For instance, we are now facing serious problems of credit scam and cyber heist in our financial sector, corruption and inefficiency in public service delivery process, rampant violence against women, frequent violation of traffic rules and road accidents, wastage and pilferage in the utility delivery system and so on. Along with fixing some of these pressing problems of our time, AI can also be chosen to perform those tasks which involve a lot of risks and/or very high levels of precision such as firefighting, ship breaking, handling industrial chemical, predicting natural disasters, diagnosis of critical diseases and so on.
We must revisit our education system and reinvigorate it with soft skills such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving, leadership, collaboration and teamwork, social responsibilities, and ethics along with emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In this way, we'll be able to convert our young population into skilled manpower, a critical input for realising our AI ambitions. Besides, we should also attempt to develop capability to serve the overseas markets, where AI is gaining ground very fast. Thus, we can diversify our heavily imbalanced export basket and realise our aspiration for economic prosperity. Countries like Taiwan and South Korea have leapfrogged as a developed nation through harnessing the semiconductor revolution, while countries like India and Philippines have enormously benefited from the business process outsourcing boom. Today, another revolution is beckoning that Bangladesh can attempt to exploit for its economic prosperity. If this train is missed, our path to prosperity might be harder and longer.
No matter what technology we opt to develop or which algorithm we choose to apply, fostering social welfare and upholding humanity through the sensible use of technology should be the ultimate goal. Again, no technological development should be allowed to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, or create any form of disparity or injustice. Therefore, a carefully crafted policy should be adopted and implemented to secure our future in the AI-driven global order.
Md Abdul Bari is a civil servant who is currently pursuing his Master's degree at the University of Queensland, Australia.