AI can accelerate SDG in Thailand
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AI can accelerate SDG in Thailand

We have just passed the halfway point in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Adopted by all UN members in 2015, the agenda laid out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to mobilise efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities, and tackle climate change.

Thailand has made significant progress in achieving the SDGs. According to the UN, over 40% of the indicators are on course. However, challenges remain, with a third of the SDGs needing acceleration, while a quarter are regressing, including SDG 13, which focuses on climate action.

AI use to advance SDGs

Artificial intelligence (AI), which has rapidly emerged as a transformative force reshaping our world, holds immense promise in addressing these challenges and uplifting the lives of Thais by driving sustainable progress. Cutting-edge AI innovations, coupled with the Internet of Things, blockchain and other emerging technologies, are poised to revolutionise how we tackle issues like food production and climate change, as well as strengthen access to healthcare and quality education.

In the agriculture sector, which makes up around 8.8% of Thailand's GDP, and one which is significantly impacted by climate change, AI can help improve crop yields by providing farmers with real-time insights on irrigation, fertilisation, and other adjustments based on data collected by sensors.

The G-Smart program implemented by Digilog in South Korea is a good case in point -- the program installs automated sensors, which continuously monitor ambient conditions in greenhouses growing perilla leaves (a staple in South Korea), and uses AI to guide adjustments like ventilation, maximising leaf growth while monitoring for fungus. This innovative approach saves farmers two hours daily and boosts overall yields by 5%.

AI can also be used to make learning more accessible and personalised, which is critical to creating an inclusive society and improving the socio-economic development of underprivileged communities. For example, Solve Education, a philanthropic organisation based in Indonesia offers personalised learning through text-based interactions with their AI-powered chatbot, Ed.

With Ed, which is available via the web, learners can enrol in courses such as English, mathematics, and financial literacy. Another example is Qanda from South Korea, which employs AI-based optical character recognition to facilitate problem-solving in mathematics and science. The technology can produce an answer in as little as five seconds and is currently assisting 1.7 million students in South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam.

AI is also transforming healthcare delivery. AI-enabled wearables could be distributed to people living in remote and difficult-to-reach areas, enabling healthcare professionals to monitor patients remotely. This democratisation of access to quality care, particularly in underserved areas, will alleviate personnel shortages and allow healthcare officials to allocate scarce resources more efficiently.

Deployed across an entire region, AI-enabled wearables provide healthcare policymakers with almost real-time information about the health status of the region.

This information would be infinitely useful in determining how mobile healthcare teams are dispatched, the required expertise of the teams, necessary equipment, and with sufficient granularity, the appropriate amounts and dosages of medicines.

Pro-innovation approach

AI's transformative power potential extends far beyond these sectors and can accelerate Thailand's progress towards the SDGs. Of course, as we reap the benefits of AI, we must proactively address concerns around AI, including data privacy and ethical AI use. At the same time, we must avoid stifling growth and innovation in the pursuit of responsible AI practices.

Encouragingly, there has been much public-private collaboration to establish and promote responsible AI use. In February this year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) published a framework for artificial intelligence governance that is underpinned by a light-touch, flexible approach to managing AI risks. Pro-innovation regulatory frameworks that foster investment -- financial, social, and political -- are part of the critical infrastructure that support AI.

Agile governance frameworks and risk-based regulations can nurture an enabling environment for AI while safeguarding citizens' rights, ethical principles, and equitable distribution of benefits.

The path ahead is rife with complexities but brimming with possibilities. The transformative potential of AI is clear. What we need are bold strategies and pro-innovation policies that strategically leverage AI to uplift lives, safeguard our planet, and propel socio-economic progress aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.

A measured approach incentivising AI research while managing risks pragmatically can supercharge Thailand's digital economy and amplify AI's positive impact in areas like food security, climate action, and social development.

As Asean nations shape their AI roadmaps, open dialogue between governments, industry, academia, and civil society will be vital for devising agile governance mechanisms suited to this fast-evolving domain. The tech sector is committed to maintaining public trust by ensuring AI systems are ethical, robust, responsible, and transparent.

Jeff Paine, managing director, Asia Internet Coalition, a leading industry body that advocates for effective regulatory changes for the internet.

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