The thirteenth AI Connect webinar, hosted by the U.S. Department of State and the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center on May 25, 2023, focused on use cases of artificial intelligence (AI) in Southeast Asia and the Pacific as well as the region’s current AI ecosystem.
A brief introduction by Rich Holliday of the State Department’s Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy led into the webinar’s first panel, moderated by GeoTech Center Program Assistant Emily Sespico, in which AI Connect participants presented how they have harnessed AI to approach distinct problems. Mohammed Moishin, a software developer at Fijian disaster and incident management solutions group QIT Pacific, spoke about his application of AI in improving flood warning systems. Shakvat Sabirov, the president of the Internet Association of Kazakhstan, discussed how AI has augmented the Association’s ability to effectively monitor websites in Central Asia and discern engagement trends. And M. Sohel Rahman, a professor in the department of Computer Science and Engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, explored two AI use cases in Bangladesh: predicting groundwater levels to more efficiently allocate water pumping machinery, and estimating mobile usage to predict broadband demand across 2,600 administrative units. These use cases demonstrated the wide-ranging issue areas that AI tools can supplement in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
The webinar’s second panel, moderated by GeoTech Center Program Assistant Caroline Thompson, focused on the approaches that nations in the region are taking toward AI principles and policies. The participants in this discussion included Venky Krishnamoorthy, the Country Manager for India at BSA | The Software Alliance; Jibu Elias, Head of Content and Research at The National Program on AI for the government of India; Matt Chessen, the Regional Technology Officer for East Asia and the Pacific for the U.S. State Department; and James Cerven, the Regional Technology Officer for the U.S. Consulate General in Sydney.
Much of the discussion revolved around the ways in which tech companies and governments can have a mutually beneficial relationship. Krishnamoorthy spoke about how both private companies and governments want to leverage AI to maximize its social benefits while minimizing its risks and noted that the overlap between the public and private interest in AI is one reason that governments are currently deploying AI frameworks instead of more rigid regulations. Elias agreed, arguing that a multidisciplinary approach—beyond mere regulation—is critical to ensuring AI safety and fairness. Chessen noted that regulating use cases is more productive than regulating the technologies themselves, as technology-wide restrictions risks stifling innovation. Additionally, Cerven asserted that categorizing tools as either high-risk or low-risk ignores the evolutionary nature of AI and that it is better to evaluate the risks of a tool at each step of its development process. Ultimately, the panel was optimistic that countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific could tackle the challenges that AI poses without inhibiting its potential for good.