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Philippine regulators told to empower users, workers to tackle AI threats

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

MELVIN PANESA, 21, worries about losing his call center job near the Philippine capital to artificial intelligence or AI.

His company has been helping its workers keep up with AI — a software system based on neural networks that “thinks” a lot like a human — by teaching them how to harness the tool.

“They monitor staff improvement and teach them how to use AI tools in a productive and efficient manner,” Mr. Panesa said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

Lawmakers all over the world are starting to consider laws needed to regulate AI, which made headlines earlier this year when ChatGPT, an AI program that can answer questions in written form, became generally available.

AI has allowed effective voice and image recognition, as well as the ability to generate synthetic imagery and speech. Researchers working hard to make it possible for AI to browse the web, book tickets, tweak recipes and more.

AI was pioneered decades ago, but it blossomed only recently thanks to powerful new computers.

The government and stakeholders including the academe and civil society should start formal talks to determine how the country could embrace AI and ensure that its use is ethical, the Analytics & Artificial Intelligence Association of the Philippines (AAP) said in an e-mail.

“With AI having consumers as early adopters, the discussions on regulation to protect people and determine where and when they can be used should involve various sectors including civic society,” it said. “It should not be limited to the private sector representing the commercial use of AI.”

The government should regulate entities that create AI applications and systems “to ensure responsible and ethical AI products,” AAP said.  “These discussions should involve startups and practitioners, aside from technology companies.”

Advocacy groups and tech insiders have warned that AI-powered chatbots could be used in disinformation campaigns and to displace jobs. Geoffrey Hinton, the AI godfather himself, has sounded the same alarms.

After announcing his resignation from Google, Inc. in May, Mr. Hinton told the BBC AI chatbots — a product of his pioneering research on neural networks and deep machine learning —  were “quite scary” because they could become more intelligent than humans.

Neural networks are systems similar to the human brain in processing and learning information, enabling AI to learn from experience.

“Right now, what we’re seeing are things like GPT-4 eclipses a person in the amount of general knowledge it has, and it eclipses them by a long way,” Mr. Hinton told the BBC. “In terms of reasoning, it’s not as good, but it does already do simple reasoning. And given the rate of progress, we expect things to get better quite fast. So we need to worry about that.”

AAP said Philippine lawmakers should take the cue from governments around the world that have taken steps to regulate AI.

The proposed European AI Act, for one, wants to ensure that AI systems are overseen by people, safe, transparent, traceable, nondiscriminatory and environment-friendly, according to the European Parliament website.

“AI systems with an unacceptable level of risk to people’s safety would be strictly prohibited, including systems that deploy subliminal or purposefully manipulative techniques, exploit people’s vulnerabilities or are used for social scoring (classifying people based on their social behavior, socioeconomic status, personal characteristics),” the European Parliament said.

A local congressman has filed a bill that seeks to create an Artificial Intelligence Development Authority, a superbody that will lead the development and implementation of a national AI strategy.

“The Philippine government should consult stakeholders in an organized and strategic manner to achieve concrete results in the shortest possible time, given the pace of how this technology evolves,” AAP said.

For one, the government should do something about the weak digital infrastructure, which prevents the country from fully harnessing the potentials of AI, it added.

The Philippines ranked 54th out of 181 countries in the 2022 Government AI Readiness Index by Oxford Insights, getting a score 55.42 out of 100.

The Southeast Asian nation, which placed ninth among its 17 peers in East Asia, scored 65.9 in terms of the vision, governance, digital capacity and adaptability of the government. It scored 36.33 in terms of the technology sector’s maturity, innovation capacity and human capital and 64.9 in terms of data and infrastructure.

“AI is here to stay, and we can only expect it to evolve quickly,” AAP said. “This will change the future jobs.”

It said the Philippines’ educational system should adapt to “prepare the Philippines’ future workforce accordingly.”

OpenAI’s ChatGPT, launched in November, became an instant hit among students because it can write essays and do other school tasks.

The rise of ChatGPT and similar AI tools has come with social costs. In the Philippines, some students at its premiere state university were investigated earlier this year after they were accused of using AI to cheat their way out of college.

Still, some educators think ChatGPT is more than just a dream machine for cheaters and could actually help make education better.

Crafting AI policies in education should help “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

AII called for the incorporation of AI tools in Philippine learning curricula, adding that teachers should be trained in AI education as early as possible — “learning from the mistakes during the pandemic when we were not prepared to use digital platforms on time to meet the demands for effective learning.”

There are a handful of academic institutions in the Philippines that offer AI courses, including the University of the Philippines, which approved in July the country’s first doctoral program in AI.

“Everyone will be affected by AI, directly or indirectly,” AAP said. “There will be some industries that will be disrupted sooner than others, and not necessarily just the ones that have highly routinary and repetitive tasks.”

Even the creative industry could lose to AI as machines get the advantage in acquiring more related datasets at a much faster pace.

The group said it’s time for Filipino workers to develop new skills that will meet the demands of an AI-powered future.

“Digital skills will be a minimum and mandatory requirement, or else we will constantly fear to be replaced,” it said. “But we should not just aspire to be users of AI. We should be creators of our own AI and innovate for our own future.”

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