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The Future of Asia: Forces of Change and Potential Surprises – Supplementary Report

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Artificial Intelligence & Data Analytics Might Manage Billions

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What is it?
Why is it important?

What is it?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a technology and a branch of computer science concerned with the development of machines capable of performing intelligent tasks, particularly ones previously thought only possible by humans. Closely linked to robotics, AI enhances the capacity of machines to complete complex functions, including learning, communicating and analyzing. This last role, undertaking complex analytics, is growing in importance as datasets increasingly contain more usable information.1 The expansion of datasets is occurring as virtually all aspects of our lives become digitized and as real-world sensors become ever smaller, cheaper and more capable.

AI is in wide and growing use today in Asia and around the world. Currently, familiar applications include Apple’s Siri for voice recognition, Google’s text and image search functions, Facebook’s facial recognition capability, NASA’s rovers, and algorithmic stock trading. In Asia, AI is being used to assist with a number of governance-related tasks, including drought estimation systems,2 text-messaged agricultural advice to Indian farmers,3 population identification and service delivery in India and AI-assisted social media monitoring in China (see e-governance insight below). There are now also applications relating to government services such as education and health.4  5  6

Why is it important?

As populations get ever larger, with cities growing to the size of countries, and countries reaching previously unimaginable scale, AI could be used to address governance capacity. Distributed authority, service delivery, employment-finding services,7 human rights atrocity prediction,8 and collaboration with citizens are examples of how AI could be used by governments. AI also has potential widespread military and enforcement applications. For example, drones fitted with AI systems could theoretically perform military operations without human interaction.9 AI-assisted governance also promises to aid in the fight against corruption.10  11 An AI governance structure largely free from corruption would consequently cause significant change to the economic and social systems of any country. However, it also raises new challenges. Where AI has the potential to affect human welfare, it raises questions of liability and ethics.

As it links more and more to large flows of data, including data from sensors, the prospect of AI-aided real-time management of complex systems and services (i.e., financial, social and environmental) is increasing. However, while AI-assisted governance may improve the delivery of services, it could also be used as a means of monitoring citizens’ activities. AI may change existing structures of control by putting those responsible for the algorithms closer to decision makers. It may also reduce transparency in government as AI-assisted decision-making becomes taken for granted.12


  1. Rangarao, D. “What is Big Data Analytics?” IBM. February 2012. http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/infosphere/hadoop/what-is-big-data-analytics.html(link is external)
  2. Smakhtin, V.U. and D. A. Hughes. “Review, Automated Estimation and Analyses of Drought Indices in South Asia.” International Water Management Institute. 2004. http://www.unisdr.org/files/1869_VL102136.pdf(link is external)
  3. Basu, M. “Indian Farmers Receive Expert Advice Via Mobile.” Asia Pacific futuregov. August 2013. http://www.futuregov.asia/articles/2013/aug/26/indian-farmers-receive-expert-advice-mobile/(link is external)
  4. “Robots Teach South Korean Students.” Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). August 2013. http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2011/01/17/robots-teach-south-korean-students(link is external)
  5. Thayer, T. “Singapore Moving Toward Future with Artificial Intelligence in Schools.” Education4site. December 2012. http://www.education4site.org/blog/2012/singapore-moving-toward-future-with-artificial-intelligence-in-schools/(link is external)
  6. Singapore-based “Healint” supports doctors in taking advantage of smartphone sensors and big data for the management of chronic diseases, through a simple smartphone app that lives in the patient’s pocket. Website: http://www.healint.com/(link is external)
  7. Ito, A. “Algorithms Play Matchmaker to Fight 7.7% U.S. Joblessness.” Bloomberg Technology. April 2013. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-03/algorithms-play-matchmaker-to-fight-7-7-u-s-unemployment-jobs.html(link is external)
  8. Hazelton, A. “Tech Challenge Develops Algorithms to Predict Atrocities.” SciDevNet. December 2013. http://www.scidev.net/global/human-rights/news/tech-challenge-develops-algorithms-to-predict-atrocities.html(link is external)
  9. Helton, S. “Artificial Intelligence and Death by Drones: the Future of Warfare will be ‘Decided by Drones’ not Humans.” Global Research: Centre for Research on Globalization. October 2013. http://www.globalresearch.ca/artificial-intelligence-and-death-by-drones-the-future-of-warfare-will-be-decided-by-drones-not-humans(link is external)
  10. Saadi, S. “Uzbekistan to Transition to E-government.” Central Asia Online. March 2013. http://centralasiaonline.com/en_GB/articles/caii/features/main/2013/03/27/feature-01(link is external)
  11. The potential of new technologies to prevent bribery in procurement: e-announcements, e-bidding and e-procurement. “Fighting Bribery in Public Procurement in Asia and the Pacific.” Asian Development Bank and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2008. http://www.oecd.org/site/adboecdanti-corruptioninitiative/40838411.pdf(link is external)
  12. Anthropomorphic bias occurs when things in our lives become so universal we take them for granted to the point where we forget they exist.
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Policy Horizons Canada, also referred to as Policy Horizons, is an organization within the federal public service that conducts strategic foresight on cross-cutting issues that informs public servants today about the possible public policy implications over the next 10-15 years.

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