Southeast Asia is witnessing a remarkable surge in its digital economy, with projections indicating that it will reach $100 billion in revenue this year. Amid this rapid growth, the role of artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly prominent.
Regulatory challenges and opportunities
Critics warn of regulatory barriers: Critics of AI regulations, including mandatory certification and licensing requirements, have raised concerns that these rules may inadvertently strengthen the dominance of large tech companies while creating formidable entry barriers for startups. Andrew Ng, a renowned AI expert and co-founder of Google Brain, expressed worries that such regulations could stifle innovation.
Advocating for thoughtful regulation: Ng suggests that, instead of inhibiting AI development, regulations should be “thoughtful” and focus on transparency from tech companies. This approach could help prevent potential harms, similar to those seen in the social media industry. The importance of striking the right balance between regulation and innovation is emphasized.
Opportunities for market entrants:
Building on existing platforms: Florian Hoppe, partner and head of vector in Asia-Pacific at Bain & Company, points out that while large language models (LLMs) are expensive to build, smaller players can capitalize on opportunities by developing specialized or domain-specific AI applications and models on top of existing LLMs. This allows startups to enter the market without the resource-intensive task of creating their own LLMs.
Necessary role of regulation: Hoppe acknowledges that regulations play a crucial role in mitigating AI risks, emphasizing the need for responsible AI development. Startups can navigate this landscape by aligning their innovations with regulatory guidelines.
Collaboration between government and industry
Healthy conversations: Governments and industry players in Southeast Asia are engaging in constructive dialogues to shape the regulatory framework for AI. Sapna Chadha, Google’s Southeast Asia vice president, highlights the importance of collaboration in finding the right balance between regulation and fostering market innovation.
Striking a balance: Southeast Asia, being technology-forward, is positioned to strike a harmonious balance between regulation and innovation. This balance is essential to ensure that AI can contribute to economic growth while mitigating potential risks like data bias.
AI’s role in the digital economy
Key enablers Data infrastructure and regulation are identified as key enablers for Southeast Asia’s digital economy. The latest e-Conomy SEA report released by Google, Temasek, and Bain & Company emphasizes the significance of investments in digital and physical infrastructures to expand digital services beyond metro cities, where the demand for digital products and services is on the rise.
Robust growth: Despite global macroeconomic challenges, Southeast Asia has exhibited robust GDP growth of over 4%. The region’s digital economy is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 27% since 2021, outpacing gross merchandise value (GMV). E-commerce, travel, transport, and media are set to contribute significantly to the region’s revenue, with GMV expected to reach $218 billion in 2023.
Sustainable E-commerce growth: E-commerce in Southeast Asia is on a trajectory of sustained growth, with a 22% increase in revenue year on year, reaching $28 billion. GMV in the sector is projected to reach $139 billion in 2023 and $186 billion in 2025.
Monetization and digital inclusion: To sustain digital growth, the report emphasizes the importance of digital businesses focusing on monetization and establishing paths to profitability. Additionally, digital inclusion remains crucial, necessitating continued government investments in infrastructure to bridge connectivity gaps in rural areas.
Southeast Asia’s digital economy is flourishing, and AI plays a pivotal role in this growth story. While there are concerns about AI regulations potentially hindering startups, the region offers ample opportunities for market entrants to innovate and build on existing AI models. Collaborative efforts between governments and industry players are shaping thoughtful regulation that balances innovation and responsibility. As Southeast Asia strives to become a sustainable digital economy, investments in infrastructure and responsible AI development will be key drivers of success in this dynamic landscape.