Organisations have been told to prepare their current and future workforces for the field of data science as employees must be able to act as “translators”, who can interpret consumer demand and relay the information to data scientists and technicians, experts said at the “Deep Think: How AI Will Change the World” conference organised by the Bangkok Post Group on Friday.
At the conference, calls were made for reform within the Thai education system to promote the study of data science and software development across the country in order to develop a savvy local workforce.
Harry Seip, a partner at McKinsey & Company, urged Thailand to train more data scientists or experts with the technical skills needed to identify and solve problems.
“This is the greatest challenge. Thailand must retool its organisations to plug gaps in the workforce for data scientists — a crucial and in-demand skill in the years to come,” he said.
“Translators should have a basic understanding of technical issues and have the business awareness to identify opportunities and challenges,” he added.
Mr Seip, who revealed his insights on how artificial intelligence (AI) is affecting the business landscape today, and how it will change the world in the future, was joined by other experts and experienced business people.
Mr Seip encouraged companies to retrain non-technical workers as “translators” or those who can communicate with both customers and data scientists. At the moment, companies should optimise for this opportunity because AI is already ready for commercial use.
“Google is using advanced technologies to deliver their services. The next step will be the democratisation of AI from research labs to businesses,” he said. Among their core products are Google Translate and Google Maps.
To enhance the growth of AI technologies, Jake Lucchi, the head of AI and Data Value at Google Asia Pacific, said a suitable environment must be created.
“Data should be more accessible to companies. Meanwhile, universities should teach data science to develop more talent in this growing industry. This will provide a positive ecosystem for companies,” Mr Lucchi said.
Hinting that companies should prepare to cope with the potential challenges before they start using AI technologies, Mr Seip indicated that there should be a focus on how AI can be used as a tool to make a positive impact.
“In the initial stages, companies will be amazed by what is possible with AI. However, they should keep their focus on what values they are bringing to customers and brainstorm how AI can solve problems they face or else they will end up using it unnecessarily,” he said.
Meanwhile, Thanaruk Theeramunkong, president of the Artificial Intelligence Association of Thailand, said he believes the largest stumbling block for the development of AI in Thailand is the lack of technical expertise.
To remain competitive in this emerging sector, Thai education needs a digital-age upgrade to prepare young people for the AI era, which will lead to a rise in demand for workers in the the fields of computer engineering, software engineering, and mathematics, while workers who perform only routine skills will be at risk of being replaced by robots.
“The workforce of the future will need to be armed with the complex problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and creativity to keep pace with new technologies and new ways of working,” he said.
“In China, AI is already being taught at high school level, but in Thailand, the subject is still not widely taught. Only a few universities in Thailand now offer a degree in artificial intelligence and computer engineering, which is why we need to increase the number of these programmes,” he said.
Addressing the fear of being replaced by AI technologies, Mr Lucchi said humans will move the ladder to train robots.
“AI is good at specific tasks. Its sophistication will definitely improve, but humans will have to train machines to perform certain roles,” he said.
Mr Lucchi said people must learn to coexist with AI, urging them to consider both the opportunities and challenges this technology presents.
“People ask whether those in the creative industry will be automated. Look at these examples. Google Art and Culture has digitised museums. Online access to artwork, in fact, promotes public engagement. Netflix is also a game-changer in entertainment,” he said.
Mr Seip said humans should treasure unique characteristics, including soft skills, creativity, critical thinking, and curiosity.
“We should develop these features and draw from human experiences, which cannot be instilled in robots,” he said.
Virot Chiraphadhanakul, the co-founder of Skooldio, Google Developers Expert in Machline Learning and an ex-Facebook data scientist, agreed that companies are in dire need of “translators” to transform the landscape.
Every person in a company should have a basic understanding of data so that they can identify opportunities and be able to frame the problem before bringing it in front of data scientists to be solved, he added.
At the technical level, companies should have middle management who guide technical personnel since many new graduates in the field of AI lack the foundation, knowledge and experience from the business side.
With AI and data, businesses can now understand what consumers are thinking, he said.