AI in Southeast Asia: Are jobs being replaced? Not quite yet, but an uncertain future


As it stands, AI does not pose an imminent threat to workers’ livelihoods – at least in Southeast Asia’s healthcare and BPO industries.

But this could change by 2040, one expert warns.

Dr Lundberg noted that the world is currently at the first stage of AI – known as weak AI – where humans have more logic than AI. At this stage, AI is able to enhance the work of human workers and acts as an aid, she said. 

However, at the second stage – known as strong AI – where AI has a human level of cognition, jobs will be at risk. 

“There is already strong prediction that the second stage will arrive in two decades,” said Dr Lundberg.

As AI rapidly evolves, the race for regulation is on, with action being taken at global and national levels to avert the risks while hopefully reaping the rewards.

When asked if the development of AI should be regulated in favour of the livelihoods of human workers, Dr Lundberg noted that while this is an ideal scenario, the rapid growth of AI has outpaced the setting of rules.

“Regulation has to go hand in hand with technological progress but the private sector, where technological progress occurs, will not wait.

“What we could do is to accelerate the government side (so that it catches up with the private sector). We cannot slow down the private sector; it’s opposite from development,” said Dr Lundberg.

To survive in the strong AI phase, workers should also constantly upskill, reskill, and gain basic digital literacy.

For those already proficient with basic technology, they need to focus on upskilling and reskilling, said Dr Lundberg, noting that there are already various government-led initiatives in the region. 

Singapore launched an updated version of its national AI strategy last month. Among its plans – a tripling of its AI talent pool, and significant investments in adult education and training to reskill and upskill workers.

In Thailand, the government has introduced a tax subsidy programme for companies that offer upskilling and reskilling courses. 

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