Asia’s AI agenda: AI for business

February 26, 2019
Senior executives in Asia are bullish about AI as a source of future competitiveness, a new study finds.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has quite possibly been the most widely discussed technology theme of 2018. The projections for how these new big data, machine learning, and automation capabilities will transform cities, companies, and societies are startling, and causing policymakers and business leaders around the world to plan for a future where AI is a core competency. Experts increasingly view technological readiness, particularly having a sophisticated AI base, as a determinant of future competitiveness for nations and for companies.

To comprehensively examine the development of AI in Asia Pacific, MIT Technology Review Insights has designed Asia’s AI agenda, a research program looking at four distinct angles: Asia’s AI ecosystem, the leading use cases and business applications across the region, the evolving talent landscape, and the emerging discussions around AI and ethics. To produce this series, MIT Technology Review Insights conducted a survey of almost 900 executives across 13 markets, and over two dozen interviews with leading authorities from academia and industry.

Asia’s AI agenda: AI for business is the second paper of this series and it zooms into how businesses in the Asia-Pacific region are assessing the value of AI, creating strategies for deploying it within their organizations, evaluating the emerging use cases, and overcoming the challenges they are facing along the way. The key findings of this second paper are:

  • Asia is past the halfway mark. More than half of the survey sample have already deployed AI technologies within their business. Of the 13 markets covered by the survey, the highest level of AI penetration is in North Asia— Japan and South Korea. Indonesia and Vietnam are at the most nascent stage; with just a quarter of companies using AI.
  • Adopting on a case-by-case basis. Less than a third of the ‘AI adopters’ have a centralized strategy for AI. The majority are deploying AI case by case. Measuring the effectiveness of the technology on the same terms as other business projects is important, but with caveats. Machine learning takes place over a period of time, and is only as effective as the quality of its training data
  • Improving the customer experience is imperative. Delivering an improved customer experience is the number one priority for companies in Asia in terms of their development and deployment of AI, with more than half of survey respondents already having used AI in customer processes and interactions. Improving business decision- making speed and quality, and increased operational efficiency, are also ranked as organizational priorities for AI.
  • Machine learning is the most common AI tool. Machine learning is the most highly deployed AI tool according to our survey (44%), followed by automated reasoning (34%), natural language processing (33%), and robotic process automation (RPA) (33%). In the year ahead, image recognition followed by reinforcement learning will be the fastest growing areas of AI.
  • Constraints include talent, a lack of data, and high costs. A shortage of internal talent, noted by 58% of survey respondents, ranks as the region’s greatest challenge in deploying AI. Yet filling the gap is not easy, as AI engineers are scarce and in high demand. Moreover, retaining them is not guaranteed. Other top AI challenges reported in the survey include the lack of available data and the high costs of deployment.