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Jun 27, 2019

SLASSCOM to develop national AI policy in six months

By Nishel Fernando
The Sri Lanka Association of Software and Service Companies (SLASSCOM) plans to develop a national Artificial Intelligence (AI) policy for Sri Lanka, in six months, partnering with the public and private sector stakeholders.

Launching the draft AI policy framework in Colombo yesterday, SLASSCOM Chairman Jeevan Gnanam announced that SLASSCOM will lead the way for Sri Lanka to adopt a national AI policy in six months, with the collaboration of government and private stakeholders.

As AI is projected to generate US $ 15 trillion worth of new business opportunities globally by 2030, he said that Sri Lanka needs to grab a share of this pie with a clear strategy in place, which would support Sri Lanka’s aim to achieve US $ 5 billion from the IT/BPM exports by 2022.

He noted that Sri Lanka has taken too long to take an official stance on AI as several countries forge ahead. Hence, a policy on AI is crucial at this juncture for Sri Lanka.
Dialog Axiata Group Chief Operating Officer Dr. Rainer Deutschmann emphasised that prior to the application of AI technologies, Sri Lankan firms need to enhance their utilisation of available digital infrastructure, while enhancing public awareness on such infrastructure.

“From our perspective, we view AI as almost the tip of the iceberg. However, we see that there’s lot of groundwork has to be done, leading up to application around AI.
One of the most basic things we are lacking is the use and awareness of digital infrastructure in Sri Lanka,” Deutschmann pointed out.

Illustrating an example he noted that smartphone penetration is low in Sri Lanka compared to other regions despite having one of the best and affordable networks in 
the world.

Deutschmann further noted that Sri Lankan firms lag behind in terms of utilising digital infrastructure available for them.

“Are we using the power of cloud computing as companies? The answer is no. So many of our customers are still using their own propriety service; they are basically stuck in legacy.
You want to spend your time on AI; you don’t want to spend your time running on basic computer and storage infrastructure,” he elaborated.

Moving forward, he stressed that irrespective of the industry, every firm will have to be ‘AI first organisation’, otherwise he warned that they may lose out to the competition.

He noted that Dialog Axiata has already adopted the use of AI throughout its value chain, with the implementation of its fundamental digital transformation programme, which began three years back.

The proposed AI policy is targeted at addressing the current shortfalls in the ecosystem, such as lesser number of data science graduates, low amount of research being conducted, lack of implementation, general lack of skill set availability, low awareness and absence of special data laws ensuring data security. It is also proposed to establish a centre of excellence for AI, either as a public-private partnership initiative or as an independent body, for the implementation of the policy.

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