Catching the AI wave
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Catching the AI wave

Microsoft's announcement that it will build a data centre in Thailand, seizing the momentum of AI-driven advances in Southeast Asia, is welcome.

However, suspicions have emerged as the US tech giant refrained from disclosing the value of the Thai investment, unlike its clear announcement of how much it is putting in to projects in other Asean nations -- namely Indonesia and Malaysia.

During his Southeast Asian tour, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella visited Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. While pledging a substantial US$2.2 billion for AI and cloud computing in Malaysia and $1.7 billion for similar initiatives in Indonesia, the biggest investment by the company in the two countries, he remained silent on how much the company will invest in Thailand, prompting questions.

Digital Economy and Society Minister Prasert Jantararuangtong tried to explain that the value of Microsoft's investment in Thailand is yet to be finalised. However, this explanation raises doubts since the company gave investment figures for Malaysia and Indonesia.

Some experts believe Microsoft's investment in Thailand might not be as significant due to the possibility of shared operational services among countries. Nevertheless, a source familiar with Microsoft told the Bangkok Post that the Azure data centre in Thailand, in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), would receive an estimated US$1 billion investment, making it one of 300 Microsoft data centres worldwide.

A $1 billion investment, if true, would be less than that announced for Malaysia and Indonesia. The ambiguous situation raises questions about Thailand's readiness to capitalise on foreign investments in the technology and digital sectors which the Srettha government has tried to woo.

Analysts point to Thailand's policy readiness -- or lack thereof --in the face of the rapidly evolving AI technology landscape globally.

Thailand seemed to lack clear strategies for developing AI infrastructure until Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin laid some out last week, at the same event that Microsoft unveiled its investment plans for Thailand.

However, that abrupt announcement was just a policy and still lacks substantive action plans compared to some other countries in the region.

Furthermore, Thailand's legal framework for digital and tech investors remains ambiguous, hindering decisions on foreign investment in the digital services sector.

This involves a new draft law, initiated by the past government to regulate digital service providers in Thailand, which is still under review by the Council of State.

The bill takes after the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA) of the European Union which aims to counter illegal goods and services online and make the digital economy fairer and more contestable.

The delay in enacting this law adds to investor uncertainty, potentially diverting investments to more competitive countries.

Despite past initiatives like "Thailand 4.0" aimed at driving the economy with new and high-end technologies, doubts persist about the tangible outcomes of such policies.

Today, with the government expressing support for the AI industry and digital infrastructure, questions linger about the implementation timeline, strategies and action plan.

Clarity and decisive action are essential to help Thailand realise its goal on AI and digital innovation.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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