5 takeaways from AI Everything Summit 2019 for Sri Lanka

https://twitter.com/aieverything1/status/1123155672739319808

Keen to explore the latest developments in AI and to learn more about how it was being used in the region, I attended the inaugural AI Everything summit in Dubai.

Having also recently been thinking about the current state of AI in Sri Lanka and what it could be (or should be) in the future, I found that the summit provided some very useful perspectives.

The perspectives were in the context of two themes:

  • The first was through understanding more about the United Arab Emirates (UAE) strategy for AI and progress with its implementation
  • The second was through experiences and guidance shared by the speakers from across government, industry and academia

I believe Sri Lanka should consider the following 5 key points in developing their national strategy for AI:

  • Invest and plan ahead — The UAE is investing in its AI future. In 2017, it appointed the first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, His Excellency Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama. This was shortly after the UAE government launched their ambitious strategy on AI — UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI) — focussed on improving the performance and efficiency of government. Sri Lanka needs to start to develop and consolidate thinking across government and industry, and allocate the adequate time and resources to develop a long term strategy with accompanying implementation plan.
  • Create the right regulatory environment — Sri Lanka needs to review existing regulations and develop robust policies and laws that protect individual data privacy and facilitate data sharing. Having said this, as highlighted by Sean Reyes — Attorney General from Utah, USA, laws need to be flexible as the pace of technological change is too fast for prescriptive laws to remain relevant. He spoke of regulatory ‘sandboxes’, which provide businesses safe spaces to experiment with solutions. The correct balance will provide consumers (and government) the confidence about how their data is being used and corporates the confidence to connect various data siloes and develop innovative solutions.
  • Facilitate stakeholder engagement — This requires two complementary components. First, creation of an environment where ‘open innovation’ can thrive. Mats Carrgard — Senior Vice President at Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa, made the observation that corporates (even competitors) in the Middle East are willing to share experiences. A collaborative culture exists in Sri Lanka among start-ups and extension of this to include established corporates would be beneficial. Second, the right stakeholders must be engaged. End users are often forgotten and the importance of including users was highlighted by Seng Yee Lau — Senior Executive Vice President at Tencent, as he was explaining how responsible AI was having a positive impact in China.
  • Support the change — Successful implementation of a national AI strategy will certainly impact job roles and create a requirement for supporting the workforce adapt and learn new skills. The Sri Lankan IT industry will need to consider the various roles that are required along the AI value chain and also consider the capabilities and infrastructure required to support more data intensive (and sensitive) projects. Furthermore, the future workforce needs to be prepared. Eng Lim Goh — Vice President and CTO of High Performance Computing and AI at Hewlett Packard suggested that data science should be taught for everyone in school. While this scale of change across an education system such as in Sri Lanka would have to be staged, my experience of currently learning about Data Science is reinforcing my own belief of the need to be able to ‘work with data’ in most roles (and industries) in the near future.
  • Start smart — The Smart Dubai AI Lab has shortlisted 42 concepts where proof of concepts are being developed. Sri Lanka needs to start where adoption is going to be easiest and also where there would be a demonstrable impact. For example, the UAE government chatbot initially focussed on ‘how to start a business’ before scaling as entrepreneurs were likely to be early adopters and the existing process could be improved.

My co-founder at ConscientAI, CD Athuraliya has shared his thoughts on the importance of creating a community and established the first AI community group in Sri Lanka. CD is also coordinating a community effort to develop an AI roadmap for Sri Lanka.

As Prof. Andrew Ng said, AI provides developing countries an opportunity to leapfrog stages within the typical step-wise development process. I believe that Sri Lanka, with the appropriate focus and contributions from its technology diaspora, is well placed to do just this.

Although there is a lot to do, I feel quietly optimistic about the AI future for Sri Lanka.

Please get in touch via janak@conscient.ai if you would like to find out more or would like to contribute to the community efforts above.

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