The rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) has sparked both excitement and concern in Asia. Entrepreneurs like Suumit Shah in India have praised the technology for its efficiency and cost-saving benefits, while others worry about its potential to displace human workers. The advent of OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot and similar AI-based tools has triggered a global frenzy, with millions of users integrating these technologies into various industries. But, as generative AI continues to permeate different sectors, lawmakers and tech experts in Asia raise questions about regulation, privacy, misinformation, and the possible exacerbation of income inequality. Despite these concerns, governments and businesses in the region are increasingly adopting generative AI solutions to boost productivity and innovation.
Efficiency gains and job losses
The transformative power of generative AI has been demonstrated in numerous success stories across Asia. Entrepreneurs and businesses have embraced AI-based chatbots and image-generating tools, reporting significant improvements in efficiency and cost reduction. Indian entrepreneur Suumit Shah’s experience with a generative AI chatbot at dukaan.com is a prime example. The introduction of the chatbot led to a substantial reduction in query resolution time and customer support costs. But, this newfound efficiency comes at a cost – nearly 90% of the support team had to be laid off. While such technological advancements are hailed as necessary for business growth, they also raise concerns about the impact on livelihoods and the workforce.
According to a recent statement made by Suumit Shah, the chief executive of the e-commerce site dukaan.com, the implementation of an AI chatbot led to the layoff of 90 percent of their support team. Shah asserted that while the decision was tough, it was deemed absolutely necessary. Shah’s post on social media garnered mixed reactions, with some praising the benefits of AI and others criticizing the job losses. Shah defends his decision, pointing out that not all employers have the resources to retrain employees, placing the responsibility on workers to adapt to the changing job landscape.
While generative AI promises great benefits, Asia’s slow pace in implementing regulations and ethical frameworks has raised concerns among lawmakers and tech experts. The lack of clear guidelines may lead to potential misuse, privacy breaches, misinformation, and faster automation of certain jobs, exacerbating income inequality.
Kazim Rizvi, the founding director of The Dialogue, a policy think tank in Delhi, expressed concern over the potential impact of AI tools on socioeconomic disparities. He warned that unequal access to AI tools could further marginalize communities with fewer resources, favoring those with greater means.
Asian countries like China and India have already witnessed the integration of AI in various sectors. In the Chinese market, AI-generated models have taken the role of real people in fashion magazines and online retailers. India, too, has AI anchors presenting news, horoscopes, weather, and sports updates in multiple languages. Despite such progress, there is a lack of comprehensive regulation, with China’s “interim” rules addressing safety and copyright concerns and Singapore being one of the few with an AI governance framework.
Senator Imee Marcos of the Philippines has raised the alarm over the potential loss of jobs due to AI in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector. With millions of workers employed in this sector, the adoption of AI could lead to severe unemployment. Marcos has filed a resolution to examine the use of AI in call centers and factories, urging regulators to confront the technological tsunami head-on.
For Jo Gavino, a former BPO worker and advocate for BPO workers’ rights, the threat of job displacement is already a reality. Gavino expresses concern about the pressure on workers to compete with AI chatbots, stating,
“It’s like telling us we need to be better than the AI chatbots.”
The fear of being replaced by AI-driven solutions is a significant challenge for many workers in the region.
Asia’s challenge with generative AI
As generative AI gains momentum in Asia, it presents both opportunities and challenges. While entrepreneurs like Suumit Shah have lauded its efficiency gains and cost-saving potential, the displacement of human workers has raised concerns. The region faces a pressing need to implement adequate regulations to address privacy, misinformation, and income inequality concerns. Without responsible governance, the full potential of generative AI may not be realized, and its benefits could be overshadowed by its adverse social consequences. Balancing technological advancement with safeguarding workers’ livelihoods remains a critical challenge for Asia as it navigates the AI revolution.