SLASSCOM launches national policy framework on AI

At an event held on 26 June 2019 at Shangri-la Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka Association of Software and Services Companies (SLASSCOM) announced the launch of its artificial intelligence (AI) policy for Sri Lanka. Developed in partnership with the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) and the Ministry of Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology, the document puts forward a national approach to how Sri Lanka can place AI and robotics at the service of its citizens and the economy.

The 21st Century has seen the rapid deployment of advanced technologies by individuals, corporations, and governments. Artificial intelligence has become an area of strategic importance, the impact of which can be felt across many sectors. As a result, it is now considered a key driver of economic development. There is now an unprecedented opportunity to harness these technologies and use them not only to advance economies, but also to bring solutions to some of the world’s looming challenges.

Sri Lanka as a nation, given its strengths and capacity, is equipped with the potential to make use of this transformative technology to emerge as a key player amongst its South Asian counterparts for AI policy, research, and delivery.

At the launch event, which brought together local dignitaries and experts in the field, the overview of the framework for the AI policy was delivered by SLASSCOM Chairman Jeevan Gnanam alongside Minister of Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology Ajith P. Perera.

The policy framework encourages the collaboration between the public bodies MODSIT, ICTA, and UGC, and SLASSCOM, FITIS, and SLANSHEI from the private sector. It is available for debate and comment for the next six months. During this time, the policy framework will be incubated within SLASSCOM.

Through tangible guidance based on the three tenets of responsible AI development, i.e. transparency, nation before self, and data-driven recommendations, the document proposes multi-tiered approaches to AI from the perspectives of education, technology, ethics, standardisation, and policy – all with the intention of achieving seven primary high-level objectives:

– To increase awareness and adaptation in both public and private sectors
– To introduce legislation that will establish a level playing field for AI
– To better equip people and society for an AI nation
– To introduce AI as a tool for good
– To incentivise fundamental and applied research in AI
– To identify niche opportunities in AI
– To attract leading global technology and AI companies to setup

The policy outlines the role AI can play in the fields of education, government, agriculture, and healthcare. While the blueprint identifies shortcomings in the current ecosystem, it also proposes solutions, strategies, and policies with the aim of systematically addressing and resolving these concerns.

Its focus on the education sector calls for a scaling up of AI skill development and the actual implementation of AI in the education system in Sri Lanka on a countrywide scale. It proposes greater investment in fundamental and applied R&D for AI-enabled government policy in order to be able to boost industrial capacity and subsequently economic growth. In agriculture, it proposes the impactful use of AI-powered predictive analytics to increase crop yields. Issues within the Sri Lankan healthcare system can also be resolved with the use of AI imaging tools and the automation of clinical trials and even surgery.

Speaking at the event, SLASSCOM Chairman Gnanam stressed the importance of keeping ahead of this technological revolution and encouraged uptake by the public and private sectors to ensure competitiveness and shape the conditions for its development and use.

“As machine-learning capabilities improve, world governments are now investing even more in AI research,” said Gnanam, stressing the importance of keeping ahead of the global AI curve. “We are delighted to have been able to develop this policy framework, where we have put forward strategy and investment recommendations across various sectors on how to strengthen Sri Lanka’s competitiveness in AI.”