Thailand Embraces Artificial Intelligence
It is admirable that, with limited budgets(less than 1% of GDP), researchers in Thailand have devoted themselves to AI development for more than three decades.
AI courses were first introduced to Thai universities back in 1975, an incredibly early time for a developing nation. The first AI laboratory was established at the Department of Computer Engineering of Kasetsart University, a school originally established to study the science of farming.
Since then, under the leadership of Yuen Poovarawan, a pioneer of computer language processing in Thailand, artificial intelligence has developed rapidly throughout the country.
In the face of limited resources (Thailand as whole nation only accounts for less than 1% of global GDP), Thailand has been actively changing its economic foundations in an attempt to become a regional hub for technological development in Southeast Asia.
40% of Thailand's population still works on farms and agricultural related jobs vs only 7% in China. But, the unemployment rate is very low with only 1%, as almost anyone can find work on a farm. But, with such a great proportion of the society still making a very low income, there is great potential for the Thai youth of tomorrow to achieve higher paying jobs in the future.
By the early 2000’s, Thailand’s SchoolNet initiative achieved internet connection in 100% of schools in the country. School enrollment for 16-17 year olds according to the World Bank has also remained at 100% consistently throughout the country for the last decade, a mark higher than the United States' 92%.
At the same time, the government launched a comprehensive policy framework for Information and Communications Technology (ICT), known as the National ICT Master Plan.
Since then, computers have replaced home phones as the most common household ICT device.
In 2015, the Cabinet set aside $571 million to provide affordable internet for more than 70,000 Thai villages. Since then, total Thai production has grown by 6.8% annually vs a 2-4% growth rate for the average country.
In 2020, Thailand proposed the ICT 2020 Framework (Ministry of Information and Communication Technology 2010).
The proposal is based upon three pillars: a stronger economy, social equality and Environmental friendliness, and they have different applications in various fields from smart agriculture to smart medical services.
Among a number of technology branches, text-to-speech (TTS) synthesis has shown itself a mature technology applicable for practical use. TTS for Thai is considerably more complicated than those of other well-known languages due to the uniqueness of the Thai language.
Vaja, a bilingual Thai/English TTS developed by Speech and Audio Technology Lab (SPT) at NECTEC, is a successful research result that has been integrated in a variety of applications and services. Since 2011, more than 70 state hospitals have used Vaja to call patient names along with their registration numbers in their queuing systems.
In addition to self-developed technologies, the Thai government is also actively cooperating with the world's leading AI companies to gain more global influence in this field.
Cyber-Brain, a community based platform that facilitates IT infrastructure consolidation, information sharing, and collaboration across agencies, partners, and public boundaries, is another implementation of AI-powered technology improving efficiency in Thailand.
Rice, Thailand’s national food staple, accounts for the main income of farmers (66% of agriculture households in Thailand are rice farmers). Cyber-Brain evaluates the best practices for fertilization, soil analysis, and delivering services.
Of course, major changes pose huge challenges. Today, only 26% of Thai companies have adopted AI as a core part of their strategy. One company, Sertis is looking to fill this gap by creating tailor-made AI systems for companies that have no idea how to use the technology.
But many Thai citizens are concerned that the development of AI will take away a lot of job opportunities and could cause employment problems. The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). estimates that as many as three million jobs could be lost throughout the country over the next 20 years if Thailand fails to adapt to new disruptive technologies.
As McKinsey Global Institute says, “by 2030, intelligent agents and robots could replace as much as 30 percent of the world’s current human labor.”
Narakorn Ratchapolsitte, Vice President of the Thai Automation and Robotics Association (TARA), is optimistic and speaks of a recent national AI survey: “TARA's survey has shown that in the next one to three years, 50 percent of Thai industries will have more readiness to adopt automation systems. In the short term, large companies are ready to automate while smaller ones will need more than five years to do so. This means the trend for industrial robots and automated systems in Thailand is strong and well-established,”
AI has many foreseeable positive outcomes. Panachit Kittipanya, president of the Thailand Tech Startup Association, states that while investment in AI will indeed replace most job opportunities of low-or mid-level employees, the jobs eliminated by AI will simultaneously allow for more jobs in data science, management, and research.
AI certainly brings disruptive effects on society and jobs, but it also provides opportunities to increase sophisticated jobs, as well as positive impacts on society at large. The Thai government has been embracing AI, paving the way for a bright economic future and hopefully the private sector will follow suit.
Written by Qian Pan
Edited by Alexander Fleiss & Ethan Samuels