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Governance of AI in ASEAN

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The Government AI Readiness Index 2023 by Oxford Insights ranks the readiness of governments worldwide. For ASEAN countries, Singapore is ranked 2nd in the world, followed by Malaysia at 23rd, Thailand at 37th, Indonesia at 42nd, Viet Nam at 59th, the Philippines at 65th, Brunei Darussalam at 74th, Laos at 136th, Cambodia at 145th, and Myanmar at 149th in the world.

This ranking is evaluated based on three main dimensions: 1. Government: This includes governance of AI policies and ethics, and the role of the government in supporting digital adaptation. 2. Technology Sector: This involves the use of AI as a tool for government administration, the creation of a technology ecosystem supporting private sector R&D spending, and support for good levels of human capital. 3. Data and Infrastructure: This requires readiness to support large quantities of high-quality data as a tool for citizen use.

The ranking results show that ASEAN member countries have varying levels of AI readiness. According to the database of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the value of venture capital investment in AI businesses in Singapore is as high as 8.4 billion USD, the highest in ASEAN. Indonesia follows with an investment value of 1.9 billion USD, Malaysia with 371 million USD, Thailand with 255 million USD, the Philippines with 126 million USD, and Viet Nam with 95 million USD. Thus, AI investment in ASEAN remains concentrated in Singapore.

The differing levels of AI readiness impact economic competitiveness, widening the economic development gap within ASEAN. Countries with higher levels of development can use AI as an economic driving mechanism and a tool for internal management. This improves public service delivery, reduces costs, shortens timeframes, and makes state services more accessible to citizens.

However, even ASEAN countries with world-class AI readiness, such as Singapore, face challenges in balancing AI governance between the benefits of innovation and ethical and environmental sustainability. Therefore, given the varying levels of AI capability within ASEAN, it is crucial to establish governance standards to ensure that AI innovation is used in one direction. This will help prevent negative impacts that could harm the economy and society.

ASEAN has developed the ASEAN Guide on AI Governance on Ethics to provide a framework for the consistent use of AI across the region. This framework includes principles such as transparency and explainability, fairness and equity, security and safety, robustness and reliability, human-centricity, privacy and data governance, and accountability and integrity.

ASEAN has recommended that each country should enhance the AI skills of their workforce, support startups in using AI tools, foster collaboration between the public and private sectors in developing AI infrastructure to create a favorable ecosystem, prioritize research and development, especially in cybersecurity, and raise public awareness about the impacts of AI.

Additionally, ASEAN has recommended at the regional level that, as a regional cooperation organization, it should establish an ASEAN Working Group on AI Governance comprising representatives from member countries. This group would promote the practical implementation of the AI governance guide and gather constructive suggestions for AI governance in ASEAN.

Mr. Khobtham Neelapaichit
Senior Researcher
International Institute for Trade and Development (Public Organization)
Publication: Bangkok BIZ Newspaper
Section: First Section/World Beat
Volume: 37 Issue: 12651
Date: Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Page: 8 (left)
Column: “Insight ASEAN”

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