The time is now ripe to boost AI development

The time is now ripe to boost AI development

The pursuit of artificial intelligence (AI) advantages has been getting more attention in the past few years, with a number of countries making efforts to accelerate AI investments, especially in terms of human resources and digital infrastructure. Among them, is China, where the government has set a strategy to build its domestic AI industry, with the hopes of become the world's leader in AI technology by 2030.

In August last year, the US government announced it would spend US$1 billion on multidisciplinary AI and quantum computing research hubs, which it sees as instrumental to economic development and national security.

These are just a few examples of how AI is set to transform both the economy and society. The big question is: where does Thailand stand in the age of rapid changes in AI capacity?

As a leading university in Thailand, we believe that the role of higher education institutions is even more important in this challenging time.

Thammasat University is aware of the increasing influence technology has on the labour market. As such, we are concerned thousands of new graduates are facing difficulties in finding a job, as suggested by last year's labour estimates released by the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation.

One of the reasons behind the problem is that they do not have the required skills to meet the market's requirements, as well as soft skills which include critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration skills which can help them perform better and create solutions.

It is likely that the new graduates' unemployment woes will worsen during the Covid-19 pandemic, as many businesses and firms have been forced to shut down. If the new graduates' capacities and skills are not boosted, the quest to improve Thailand's standing in the age of AI will be a rough one. Higher education institutions need to adapt and change the way they transfer knowledge and skills to their students.

Thammasat University began the initiative to improve teaching methods, with the aim of enhancing student learning experiences, nearly a decade ago. We found that old method of instructions, such as recitations, hinder students from fully absorbing the material.

The best learning happens when students participate and are involved in classes. Therefore, we introduced active learning methods, including case-based learning, which encourage students to exchange ideas. We also adopted project-based learning which motivates students to manage their own tasks and seek more materials beyond classrooms, while our lecturers are trained to adopt active learning methods and perceive their role as coaches, not supervisors.

Higher education must highlight multidisciplinary and entrepreneurial skills, because future AI-based jobs will require new graduates to find solutions to complex problems while finding new opportunities in the market. For example, a graduate with an architecture degree may adapt his or her design skills to build virtual landscapes, while a person with a fashion design degree may end up designing costumes for characters in video games.

We will see more of these cross-disciplinary jobs emerge in the future. Some jobs may even be something that we can't even imagine today, just like several decades ago when we couldn't imagine the jobs in the AI industry.

Promoting individual values is also important, as each student has a passion for different things. The role of universities is to create an open learning environment, in which students can bring their passion into the classroom, while driving them to translate their passion into innovative solutions and products. Their passion may turn them into job creators, making new employment opportunities based on emerging technologies. However, no higher education institution can singlehandedly equip Thai students with in-demand AI skills. This requires cooperation between institutions and sectors.

Having said that, there is some progress worthy of recognition. Last September, more than 45 multi-sectoral organisations, including universities, government agencies, and private companies entered into an agreement to establish the "Thai AI Consortium" -- a collaboration and resource-sharing platform to increase AI capacity in education and the workforce.

Such collaboration is the first of its kind in Thailand. The Thai AI Consortium will push for an effective ecosystem which can drive the AI market. It will also seek opportunities to expand the network on a regional scale, with the expectation that Thailand will catch up with the global advances in AI technology. Though some studies suggest AI will cost millions of jobs, we won't have to worry if we start adapting now.


Gasinee Witoonchart is the rector of Thammasat University.



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