Mapping AI in Southeast Asia

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With the rise in the use of artificial intelligence in solving public-interest and public service issues on one side and the use of AI by the government for monitoring and surveillance on the other, it is urgent now more than ever to learn more about AI. The need to increase the level of awareness among citizens about issues related to AI and their communities can now be seen as essential.The increased interest can already be seen in sectors outside of civil society. A Philippine youth group, for example, hosted digital rights discussions during times of public health crises like the current COVID-19 pandemic through a fully online conference.

Online discussions on AI and digital rights have also significantly increased, especially now that several countries in Southeast Asia have already declared lockdowns and people are tied to their laptops and mobile devices than before. These discussions include how civil society organizations can use AI for COVID-19 relief efforts, to how governments use AI to monitor dissent and bad statements on recent government efforts (or the lack of it) to respond to the ongoing health crisis.

With this, EngageMedia and Dr. Jun-E Tan, an independent researcher based in Malaysia, collaborated to produce a country mapping of AI initiatives for those who want to deepen their knowledge on AI and the Southeast Asia context.

For those looking for a resource that is more centered on the Southeast Asia context, this mapping of SEA AI government and corporate initiatives, as well as a snapshot of the regional situation through indexes and studies, is an informative read as well.

The mapping document starts with a regional perspective — an important context-setting before moving to a country-level view of AI. This includes annotations and links on the AI Government Readiness Index, AI Government Surveillance Index, Asia-Pacific AI Readiness Index, and other studies and links that can help paint a picture of the overall situation in Southeast Asia.

The document then zooms in on a country-level AI perspective. The mapping at this point focuses on three aspects: government policies and initiatives, companies and products, and civil society initiatives.

Mapping of government policies and initiatives also include short descriptions, notes written by the researchers as either comments or guides to provided materials, and links to sources used for the research which readers can countercheck and visit as they prefer.

Corporate and product mapping, meanwhile, breaks it down by sector and supplements the list with notes about the business or the product, as well as relevant links to the items enumerated.

Lastly, civil society mapping includes the names and purpose of the initiatives, as well as links and researchers’ comments.

This mapping document is still a work in progress. This version is a result of an initial effort on mapping and exploration and is a by-product of a much larger research project.

AI Country Mapping

Updated as of April 10, 2020

Now more than ever, it is important for citizens to equip themselves with the knowledge and the tools to protect themselves from being subjects of AI surveillance and other attacks. While reading more about the situation would be a big help, constant vigilance and multi-sector action are also important.

Civil society needs to sustain and, in some cases, intensify their advocacy against AI-related human rights attacks while pushing for better citizen engagement and education on AI, human rights, and digital rights.

With the public being distracted on the current public health crisis and with more and more ordinary citizens falling prey to AI-related surveillance and attacks, civil society needs to rise above the fray and put forward this issue as an urgent concern, or else more will be subjected to similar attacks and human rights abuses.

About the Author

Vino Lucero is a Project and Communications Officer at EngageMedia. He is a journalist based in Manila.

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