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Dhaka Tribune

Artificial intelligence, real progress

With proper implementation, AI can greatly catalyze our development  

Update : 13 May 2019, 12:06 AM

Recently some endeavours have been launched by ICT Division of Bangladesh government to develop a national strategy regarding artificial intelligence (AI). Building a sustainable AI ecosystem has been set as the country’s major purpose.

AI is one of the most impactful and transformational technology in this era of the fourth industrial revolution. Its development started from the 1940s and boosted up in 1950s with some significant milestones. The gradual development of AI continued for the next several decades. 

However, the journey was not always that smooth. Initial hype created by the emergence of AI in the late 50s attracted a lot of government and industry funding during the 60s; which quickly dried out in the 70s as expected success was not coming in this field. 

Similar trend repeated when some highly endorsed AI projects got launched in the 80s but gradually decayed by early 90s due to the absence of expected outcome. However, this does not indicate any bottleneck in the research effort. Limited computer power was a major hindrance.

The breakthrough for impactful AI applications finally started to begin in the mid-90s, as that fundamental problem was gradually being solved through almost exponential enhancement of computer power and memory every year. 

AI, a term which has become so familiar to us in recent years especially in the ICT industry, along with other popular terms like IoT (internet-of-things), Big Data, Blockchain etc.

Such background of AI also reveals that it is a technological evolution that has been aimed and gradually developed for long; while now we are feeling its impact in our arena.

Strategy and policies for AI, which basically aim to maximize the benefits of AI and minimize its potential costs and risks, are being formulated across the globe. For example -- the EU has very recently unveiled ethics guidelines for AI -- which emphasizes that AI systems should be accountable, explainable, and unbiased. 

Around 30 countries have already created, are in the last phase of, developing AI framework; from generic as well as application-wise perspective.

As far as the question of Bangladesh is concerned, certain horizons for effective AI implementation are being identified by government and relevant stakeholders.

Among public sectors, citizen services are aimed at one of the best application ground; where AI can stimulate speed, efficiency, and accuracy of service.

It can bring similar benefits to other arenas -- transportation, education, agriculture, health, and environment.

In the private sector, the range is vast- covering various categories of finance, trade, industry, manufacturing, digital and telecommunication services, and media.

Successful implementation of AI requires proper data management and digital infrastructure, smooth internet connectivity, skilled resources, adequate investment, high-grade research, and development facilities -- which can be achieved through diligent and focused efforts. 

Certain aspects like ethics, data privacy, security, and regulations are crucial for AI. All these aspects are expected to be addressed in this national strategy.

A common observation that traditionally exists regarding government policies and regulations in Bangladesh is that these sometimes fail to cover dynamism and variation in the corresponding arena.

Exceptions remain there as well. 

For example, the National ICT Policy specifies domain-wise objectives, stakeholders, execution plan, and timeline in a comprehensive manner.

If the same standard can be maintained for the AI strategy, it can then best suit with the relevance and serve the needs of the country.

Adoption and enhancement of technology usually do not wait for strategy-policy formulation.

The reverse happens in most cases when the need for regulation gets felt after usage of certain technology becomes wide-scale. 

A recent example regarding this can be the “Ride Sharing Service Guideline 2017”, which came into the limelight after ride-sharing services became highly popular in Bangladesh.

A similar trend is observable for AI as well. 

Various ICT entities of the country have already been creating or exploring different AI based services. For example, a leading IT firm has made a natural language processor (NLP) for Bangla.

A leading bank has introduced Chatbot which can interact and address a significant portion of customer queries.

As such examples increase day-by-day, it remains the task for policy-makers to encourage such developments through a holistic policy.

It has been a commendable and timely initiative on the government’s end to devise a national strategy in Bangladesh regarding artificial intelligence.

Proper formulation and successful implementation of such a strategy can be ensured through a holistic approach and consolidated effort by all relevant stakeholders. 

Azfar Adib is an ICT Analyst.

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