For machines to act and react like a human is a sixty years old dream that finds its roots in the Dartmouth conference. AI has started to mimic some behaviors of human cognitive abilities – scientists were able to program insects’ intelligence (swarm intelligence) few decades ago, then came the milestones of birds (avian intelligence) and mammals. Now AI is stretching the limits of human intelligence by proving its mark in almost every field, from transportation to space, agriculture to medicine, sales, and marketing to prediction, elections to city planning and from social media interactions to changing the customers’ behavior in real-time. AI age has finally come and the countries responsible for research and development in AI will lead the world in years to come.
Pakistan has its strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and characteristics. It’s the sixth most populous country in the world with 220 million citizens. Being a developing country it lacks the required infrastructure to advance in emerging technologies but has the extraordinary young manpower, about 65% of the population is under 30, that can be trained and harnessed for development for the advancement of AI. Given the unique geo-political situation, intellectual capacity and the infrastructure woes, the ideal policy should focus on late movers’ advantage where the country will use AI to solve its most pressing problems in short term and develop the R&D facilities with collaboration of friendly nations in the long term.
Over 65 countries have started thinking about AI strategy and thirty-four countries have their detailed AI plan ready and in-progress. India has started an AI initiative a few years ago focusing on start-ups and learning, while the United States is taking the lead in defense and cybersecurity through its use of AI. Global AI landscape seems to cover almost every area of human development under AI strategies, which is a proof that AI is becoming so essentials and serve as a horizontal instead of a technical vertical, across all domains and subjects of human life.
With the growing influence of AI on our daily operations comes the threat of AI ethics and biases. Humans have 84 different kinds of biases, whatever we do has these inherent biases and it is becoming a challenge to find a dataset to train AI algorithms that is clean enough from these inherent biases. For example, if a human boss tends to select his employees form a particular religion of gender or demographics, AI will learn it automatically and will train the system to optimize the output on similar fashion. When it comes to ethics, we need to define a moral compass for AI not to harm humans, but which moral compass we will use? The one driven by law? By religion? By culture? Country? One set of ethics may be acceptable in one culture or religion and may be highly unacceptable in another. How to find the balance and the fine-line among these issues will be a challenge to investigate.
It’s not too late for Pakistan to develop and execute its AI strategic plan. The overall goal of the policy has to reap the benefits of AI advancement across multiple disciplines for better production and growth and to be aware of the strategic dangers it may pose. The policy should focus on five core areas for using AI for national good:
- Financial Transparency – like any other third world country, a good amount of financial resources wasted in corruption and bribery. We need to use AI for AML/CTF/KYC measures to detect financial frauds and wrongdoing to timely detect and prevent such incidents. The money saved in such a manner can be used for national development while punishing the bad actors and removing them from the system. Here is a good example of corruption sniffing bots that was unfortunately shot down by the government recently.
- Agriculture – with Pakistan’s growing population it is becoming a challenge to feed them all. We need to use AI to harness the power of big data and historical patterns to monitor the corps for better and disease free yields. The lessons learned can be easily applied to other nearby nations with similar environment, problems and needs. Here is a great example of it from Microsoft and a local project called Nikka by Addo.ai.
- Education – Pakistan’s young population can be trained for emerging technologies to develop Pakistan’s software development as a core export service. We need to form international collaborations with academia and industry to teach our youth latest advancements in AI and programming tools to be productive and efficient workers in the age of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) by upskilling themselves
- Security and Defence – Cybersecurity is a growing threat to the very existence of any country. We need to focus on developing AI talent in this area to protect our country, its citizens and helping the world to fight against hackers and financial criminals. AlNafi is doing an amazing e job in this area.
- Entrepreneurship – entrepreneurship, ideation, and technology commercialization should be on the forefront of policy initiatives to foster and amplify the output in this domain. We need to work on regulations and government grants to ease the process of doing business for start-ups and to attract the best minds to explore avenues and use AI for the national good.
AI is set to disrupt the global players, how we live, work, commute, and how do we maintain our relationships. Understanding it better and learning how to live with machines is going to be a challenging theme for years to come and will yield unprecedented benefits for countries. Machines will be helping us in areas from problem-solving, decision making, supply chain management, human resources, cybersecurity, defense, thinking, art, natural language processing, object detection, social media interaction and perception. We need to work now as a nation to acquire new skills and democratize data, algorithms, and accessibility to reap the benefits. It will not only improve the lives of countrymen but can also give us a strategic advantage to survive and thrive in the AI world.
Pakistan’s AI policy should aim to supplement human development and decision making with the help of advanced algorithms and paves the way for data and knowledge democratization. We need to bring the benefits of AI to our countrymen while keeping an eye on AI ethical and moral issues. AI advantages surpass its issues by many folds and this is the leap we cannot afford to ignore.