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Dhammika makes strong case for national strategy for AI


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Vallibel One Group Chairman Dhammika Perera – Pic by Upul Abayasekera

 

  • Using his knowledge from one and half years of learning from data scientists, tells CSSL forum that Artificial Intelligence is critical for “precision” solutions to multitude of socio-economic problems

  • Says failure will make Sri Lanka a laggard and miss benefits of this pervasive technology enabled 

  • Showcases cost-effective AI solutions to resolve issues in healthcare, including AI medical centres, public transportation, education, crime, security, law and order, waste management, poverty reduction and human capital development

  • Insists AI enhances sustainability and a shift to a caring and efficient society, from one of being subjected to harassment 

  • Leads private sector by example with 10 completed or on-going AI projects within Vallibel One and Hayleys Group companies

By Nisthar Cassim

Business leader Dhammika Perera last week made a compelling case for why Sri Lanka should urgently prepare a national strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a progressive move to address multiple socio-economic problems, warning failure would make the country a laggard.

Inspired by one and half years of self-learning with inputs from international data scientists, Dhammika spent two hours at the Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL) forum demystifying AI and showcasing examples of how this pervasive technology can fix daily problems faced by people as a society and overcome challenges faced as a country.

As per experts, AI is the intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans. Computer science defines AI research as the study of “intelligent agents” – any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximise its chance of successfully achieving its goals. 

Dhammika said the origins of AI go back to 1936, when English mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing developed what is known as the ‘Turing machine’, incorporating the principles of modern computing. Artificial Intelligence as a concept emerged in 1956.

He said that today, AI-driven solutions are globally used in multiple sectors, whilst even ordinary people benefit from AI-embedded features in widely-used smartphones. “AI is not complex or overwhelming, but once you understand it properly the possibilities of solving problems with precision are endless,” said Dhammika.  



 

A lot of present-day problems or failure to solve perennial ones is because of emotional thinking rather than practical. With AI, machine-learning and deep-learning - all developed by human intelligence – is the way forward. We must start work today on a national strategy for AI if Sri Lanka is to progress, or we may miss the AI bus and its host of benefits





He predicted that by 2030, with the advent of 6G satellite technology, AI will be known as “Artificial General Intelligence”, and by 2040 with 7G space technology, AI will be regarded as “Artificial Super Intelligence.”

“A lot of present-day problems or failure to solve perennial ones is because of emotional thinking rather than practical,” he said, adding that with AI, machine-learning and deep-learning - all developed by human intelligence – was the way forward. “We must start work today on a national strategy for AI if Sri Lanka is to progress, or we may miss the AI bus and its host of benefits,” Dhammika emphasised.

At the CSSL Forum attended by over 1,000 people, Dhammika shared possible AI-driven solutions to resolve problems and issues in medical and healthcare, public transportation, crime prevention, public safety and law and order, waste management, education and human capital development and poverty reduction, among others. To drive home the point that AI is real and effective, he cited several examples of how it is used in many countries to reduce cost and improve efficiency and productivity. 

“AI’s ultimate goal is usher the world into a more sustainable era. In Sri Lanka, people are subjected to various harassments daily and I strongly feel with AI-driven solutions we can aspire to be a caring and efficient society,” said Dhammika, who has also served as a Ministry Secretary and Chairman of the Board of Investment in the past. 

Dhammika said the geo-tagging of people’s pictures and AI-driven solutions such as biometrics can help enforcement of law and order effectively and efficiently, thereby reducing crime and violence. Compared with Rs. 65 billion annually spent on police, he said the investment required for AI-driven solutions was paltry but has wider benefits. By geo-tagging households and land, Sri Lanka can go for poverty reduction efforts and agricultural development with precision. He said the same applies with regard to enhancing education – both primary and higher – by geo-tagging schools, or dealing with healthcare, Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs), disabled people or reducing the number of suicides. At the CSSL Forum, he shared examples of how AI can be used locally, highlighting some of global developments such AI Medical Centres in Hong Kong.

Leading the private sector by example, Dhammika said there are completed or on-going AI initiatives within his two business groups - Vallibel One and Hayleys Plc. Singer Sri Lanka has instated smart sales forecasting, route optimisation and intelligent field service management; Hayleys Agriculture - smart farm management system; Hayleys Advantis - route optimisation system; Singer, Royal Ceramics and Lanka Tiles - business intelligence and analysis; LB Finance - deposit and withdrawal forecasting.

Dhammika said the technology start up Arimac Lanka has also developed an app as a crowd-sourced solution for dengue, and another app titled “FixIt” to deal with social issues. 

It was pointed out that investments into AI initiatives can be funded via existing budgetary allocations and urged the youth to embrace coding and software engineering to develop AI-driven solutions as a business, whilst putting pressure on the Government to embrace the adoption of this technology. He said knowledge on AI is freely available online as well and cited Coursera (www.coursera.org) and Microsoft last week launching a free online AI Business School (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai/ai-business-school) to help business leaders navigate creating an AI strategy.

He also listed 19 areas of AI technologies or AI-inspired activities being used at present. These include natural language generation, speech recognition, virtual agents, machine learning platforms, AI-optimised hardware, decision management, deep learning platforms, biometrics, robotic process automation, text analytics and natural language processing, digital twin - AI modelling, cyber defence, compliance, knowledge worker aid, content creation, peer-to-peer networks, emotion recognition, image recognition and marketing automation.



 

19 areas of AI technologies or AI-inspired activities being used at present

 

  • natural language generation
  • speech recognition
  • virtual agents
  • machine learning platforms
  • AI-optimised hardware
  • decision management
  • deep learning platforms
  • biometrics
  •  robotic process automation
  • text analytics and natural language processing
  • digital twin - AI modelling
  • cyber defence
  • compliance
  • knowledge worker aid
  • content creation
  • peer-to-peer networks, emotion recognition
  • image recognition 
  • marketing automation.

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