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By Nor Azman Abdul Razak

RECENTLY, Bank Negara Malaysia announced that Malaysia’s economy grew by 8.9 per cent in the second quarter, the highest growth in a year. Unemployment has also dipped to 3.8 percent while Malaysia’s total trade hit the RM2 trilion mark. These are welcomed developments after a prolonged slump caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But as our recovery gathers momentum with the global economy returning back to “normalcy”, are we ready to ride the economic and technological waves that were sweeping the globe even pre-pandemic?

One aspect that we need to pay attention to is the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) which has undoubtedly changed the world even as it undergoes the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Digitalisation is augmenting human capacities as we know it faster than we could have ever anticipated. AI is likely now present in almost all aspects of our day-to-day lives, from making banking transactions down to the ubiquitous, albeit sometimes annoying autocorrect function most of us have become accustomed to on our smartphones.

The increasing relevance of AI has been recognised across the world. Here in Malaysia, the government has set out frameworks for the integration of AI into the various sectors of the economy through several policy initiatives. These include the Malaysia Artificial Intelligence Roadmap 2021-2025 (AI-Rmap) and the Malaysian Digital Economy Blueprint (MDEB), spearheaded by the MyDIGITAL Corporation and the Economic Planning Unit. The government estimates that its National Industrial Revolution 4.0 (4IR) Policy will increase the country’s productivity by 30% across all sectors by the end of 2030, with AI playing a significant role in achieving that target.

Although subjective, it is not unfair to say that Malaysians can sometimes be resistant to change, and that includes the embrace of AI. We are not alone in this. According to the Pew Research Centre, there is concern across the globe about the long-term effects of embracing AI as a tool.

People are apprehensive that AI may threaten our human autonomy; that computers may match or even exceed human intelligence and capabilities of reasoning and problem solving. There is also the concern that our jobs will be taken over by computers.

Despite these concerns, we cannot ignore the potential for AI to improve our livelihoods. Indeed, Malaysia is well on its way to embracing AI, ranking 28th globally, and 1st regionally in Oxford Insight’s Government AI Readiness Index 2020. But how will embracing AI actually benefit ordinary Malaysians?

A quick Google search will reveal that AI can be utilised for a myriad of tasks in various sectors. It can be used to aid the most complex medical procedures, down to humble everyday comforts such as voice-automated home amenities. That said, my purpose is not to list down the great things we can do with AI, but rather provide a macro picture of how embracing it can be beneficial to Malaysia and its people.

While it is true that AI may render some jobs obsolete, there is an equally, if not greater potential for it to generate much more in the long-run. As a real-world illustration, in March 2021, the AI-Rmap was launched, followed by the establishment of Microsoft’s first Kuala Lumpur data centre in April that year. At the onset, it was estimated that up to 19,000 jobs would be created as a result of the project. That is from just one project, to say nothing of the positive spill over effect it could potentially create.

The increased demand for skilled labour in the field of AI and digital technology will likely generate an influx in the labour force being trained for these jobs. Taking the example of AI-Rmap and Microsoft’s data centre as a point of reference: up to one million Malaysians are expected to be upskilled in IT, AI and cloud services jobs by 2030 as a result of the initiatives. As more start ups and companies seek to develop the AI scene in Malaysia, more job opportunities will be generated.

Embracing AI will also benefit Malaysia’s economic growth by attracting international investments into the country. For example, the Microsoft data centre alone is expected to draw investments of up to RM4.12 billion over a span of five years. With increased investments into digitalisation and AI, we can expect that digital upskilling and education will see a boom in the next few years.

Some observers have expressed concern that the increase in AI adoption will lead to a widened disparity between social classes. While it is certainly true that in the short-run, accessibility to technology and digital upskilling may be limited to a privileged minority, it should not serve as a hindrance to integrating AI into our economy. Inequality caused by technology will be worser if we choose to react to its challenge by doing nothing.

Government initiatives such as MyDIGITAL under the MDEB provide a platform for Malaysians of all social classes to learn digital upskilling. This will require the support of the masses as government initiatives can only bear fruit with public commitment. Besides putting Malaysia on par with more advanced nations in the digital field, AI will gradually transform our education and way of thinking, serving as a great equaliser between social classes rather than widening the disparity.

So, well into 4IR, Malaysia must realise its potential in becoming a first-class digitalised nation by embracing AI. Despite whatever doubts we may have, we should accept that the long-term macro benefits of embracing AI and digitalisation far outweigh the costs.

Kajang, Selangor

(This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of BebasNews)

— BebasNews

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