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Youth and Artificial Intelligence: Accelerating Innovation and Driving Southeast Asia’s Economic Growth

Artwork by Rana Fanindya Putri Murad

In recent times, all eyes have turned towards ChatGPT, a cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence (AI) phenomenon that’s revolutionizing task management for millions. This surge in AI is not unique to Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, the region has seen unparalleled AI adoption across various industries, catapulting it into a new era of technological progress. 

Within this transformative landscape, the region’s youth have taken center stage as key catalysts of innovation, actively shaping the direction of business and leadership through their pioneering endeavors in the realm of AI.

The Intersection of AI, Youth, and Skill Development

To meet the escalating demand for AI expertise, several educational institutions in Southeast Asia have introduced extensive AI education programs, equipping the youth with essential skills for success in this innovative and competitive era. Simultaneously, a burgeoning wave of youth-led AI startups and entrepreneurial ventures is redefining the region’s economic landscape, underscoring the indispensable role of young innovators in fueling economic growth and technological progress.

Take a quick look at Universitas Indonesia (UI), one of the nation’s distinguished universities, which has pioneered its commitment to pursuing advanced AI technology by creating the “Tokopedia-UI Artificial Intelligence Centre” in collaboration with e-commerce giant, Tokopedia. 

The facility goes beyond being a typical research laboratory. This hub functions as a central space where researchers from different research labs within the Computer Faculty of UI collaborate with both internal and external partners to address practical challenges using AI methodologies. Moreover, this center serves as a talent pool expansion platform, facilitating student interaction with industry practitioners and easing the youth’s transition to the real-world job market.

Tokopedia and UI Launch AI Center of Excellence (Photo courtesy of Tokopedia)
Tokopedia and UI Launch AI Center of Excellence (Photo courtesy of Tokopedia)

Recognizing the significant importance of nurturing youth talent to become the next generation of technology experts, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foundation has created a joint initiative with Microsoft named ASEAN Digital Innovation Programme (ADIP). This initiative aims to foster a generation of future-ready ASEAN youth by providing quality digital skills training, particularly in the field of computer science education, to underserved youth between the ages of 15 and 35 across the region. 

ADIP combines diverse educational methods, integrating face-to-face activities with an online learning experience via the Future Ready ASEAN platform (FutureReadyASEAN.org). The program covers an extensive array of learning domains, spanning from the utilization of big data and AI to the development of project management abilities.

The program aims to nurture a culture of critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability in its tech-savvy youth. Through targeted skill development programs, the region is fostering a generation of forward-thinking decision-makers ready to lead AI innovation, strengthening Southeast Asia’s status as an emerging AI talent and leadership hub. As of 2019, the initiative has provided training for 583 educators and non-profit instructors and had a positive impact on 25,854 young individuals from 10 ASEAN nations, with over half of the beneficiaries being young girls. 

The Rise of AI-Driven Business in Southeast Asia

In 2022, the worldwide market size for artificial intelligence was estimated at USD 136.55 billion, with forecasts predicting a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 37.3% from 2023 to 2030. Earlier this year, AI-driven companies worldwide raised funding of up to USD $25 billion, with the major headline investment made by Microsoft into OpenAI valued at USD $10 billion. Southeast Asia, in particular, reported the same positive investment trend in AI companies. This September, Tech in Asia reported that 27 Southeast Asian AI startups have already received funding this year, igniting future growth for these companies.
Citing Tech in Asia, several examples of emerging AI-driven companies include Sentient.io, a Singapore-based startup that helps software developers embed AI capabilities into their applications; Indonesia-based Prowriting, which offers a proofreading tool; and Thailand-based AltoTech, providing AI-powered solutions for the manufacturing industry.

ProWritingAid, AI writing assistant software as well as valuable training and insights from writing experts (ProWritingAid)
ProWritingAid, AI writing assistant software as well as valuable training and insights from writing experts (ProWritingAid)

Recognizing substantial and recurring investments, the integration of AI in business is becoming increasingly relevant. Young entrepreneurs across Southeast Asia are not only revitalizing traditional industries but also pioneering disruptive business models, leveraging AI technologies to enhance operational efficiency and make AI the core of their businesses. This approach is driving unprecedented business results and solidifying the region’s position as a global hub for AI-driven innovation and entrepreneurship.

Preparing Southeast Asia’s Youth for an AI-Driven Tomorrow

As the omnipresence of AI is reshaping the landscape of future work in Southeast Asia, there’s an increasing need for a comprehensive approach to equip the region’s youth with the technical skills essential for thriving in an AI-dominated job market.

So, on a personal level, what can we, as young individuals, do to seize this momentum?

The answers to this question are rather straightforward — we need to enhance our adaptability and openness to an ever-evolving technology, foster collaborative initiatives, and promote a culture of continuous learning and innovation.

Youth collaborative action (Photo courtesy of Pavel Danilyuk, Pexels)
Youth collaborative action (Photo courtesy of Pavel Danilyuk, Pexels)

By ensuring that our youth are well-prepared to leverage the opportunities presented by AI, Southeast Asia is poised to harness its demographic dividend and emerge as a driving force in the global AI economy. As the region continues to embrace the transformative potential of AI, the pivotal role of its youth in propelling innovation and shaping the future of business and leadership is undeniable. 

With a strong foundation in AI education, a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, and a forward-thinking leadership culture, Southeast Asia is poised to unlock unprecedented economic opportunities and establish itself as a global leader in AI-driven business and leadership. With this understanding, the projected 2030 market volume of USD $29.89 billion for AI businesses will be achieved seamlessly.

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