Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar while addressing the Chamber of Commerce and Industry relayed about $3.5 billion in loan repayments made by Pakistan while the rest of $2 billion was rolled over by Chinese Commercial Banks. He hinted at the possibility of not making any further extensions to the 22nd IMF’s program that ends in June while about $ 2.6 billion is still not reimbursed. The burden on forex further by this loan repayment will still be sufficient by underway loan negotiations with China, KSA, and UAE. So the point to ponder here does such fiscal and monetary arrangements suffice.
Atif Mian, the Pakistani-American economist, warned in his tweets that the Pakistani economy was near collapse and needed/immediate course correction. “To thump your chest and say, ‘see we have not defaulted’ means nothing if you continue to ignore the underlying crisis,” he wrote. “The only thing worse than indecisiveness in the face of a crisis is incompetence”. And the journey to end this incompetence begins with bringing political chaos to order at home and with placing capable, well-rehearsed, and experienced personnel at the helm of affairs. This unfortunately fails to be the case in Pakistan.
While we struggle with or balance of payment deficit, draining foreign reserves without development following fitting in the heels of loans, imports, and poorly crafted International dealings, there is this one aspect that is relatively new, fledgling, and exhibits a lot of potential for the resourceful yet in situ potential of Pakistani reserves and resources, and that is what world recognizes as Artificial Intelligence or AI.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a trending buzzword for some time. It’s a term commonly used for machines, computer-controlled robots, and software systems performing intelligent tasks such as learning, planning, reasoning, and interacting – simulating the natural intelligence displayed by humans and animals.
The global AI industry is growing rapidly and is estimated to reach $126 billion by 2025 as per estimates by Statistica. The world of AI is considered an engine of economic growth and it is not a fry cry when it will be covering an entire gamut of our socio-political affairs.
Pakistan, for its part, has 600, 000 IT professionals with 25, 000 added annually. It has capacity and aptitude, with the majority of its population-most notably youth-having access to computing and Internet of Things (IoT) devices and training opportunities-the foremost features of any IT-related specification. This is the reason that about half of our GDP comes from the service sector, with the only problem being we still adhere to conventional ways and technologies and the lack of institutionalization, organization, or acknowledgment suppresses the very benefits that the state of Pakistan can otherwise accrue from the sector from that contributed to our GDP with $ 2 billion in exports in 2022 and from which government aims to accrue $ 5 billion in FY23-a goal not attained.
The advances being made in the IT sector and AI, in particular generally come from our private entities, typically in the form of SMEs. From Farmdar, which uses satellite technology to collect data about farmland for the ease of farmers and crop managers to Tax Dosti making tax management easier for the people of Pakistan and helps the Federal Board of Revenue in bringing more users to the tax net with simplified tax return filing, to TactonBiotic- using computer vision, VR, mobility, and object detection features that can be used in disasters and warfare, AI is flourishing fast in Pakistan. In addition to home-grown startups, multinational companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have also ensured their presence in Pakistan.
The only dilemma here is that their services fail to be embraced at the national level or get any financial or diplomatic support so that they are well correlated to the relevant International regimes for the expertise and maximum benefit. In other case scenarios, various MNCs providing services set up their R&D centers in the West and only outsource basic engineering work to developing countries like Pakistan, hampering the maximization of potential. The government of Pakistan and foresighted governance and recognition becomes the only way forward in this case scenario.
It is strategic to work with, go in joint public-private ventures, and learn from the expertise of such MNCs who stand as an exception like that of Motive, which established its primary AI team in Lahore, deploying multiple PhDs, Postdocs in Computer Vision and Machine Learning, and engineers with a solid academic research background and is using AI technologies to help prevent road accidents, keep our roads safer, and save lives.
Various universities offering training and expertise in AI like NUST, and FAST. ITU and PUCIT are working in such domains of AI, publishing some ground-breaking research and cutting-edge technologies/products/solutions to the International AI conferences and events where their efforts are recognized and rewarded while Pakistan draws into raw knowledge outsourcing to our loss, in general. Patient First. AI, Pakistan’s groundbreaking healthcare startup has won $75, 000 recently from Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge for its innovative Electronic Health Record (EHR) system addressing the urgent need for better healthcare record management in developing countries where access to adequate healthcare services remains a critical issue. The platform is transnational in character, shares Pakistan’s perspective of common and collective prosperity, and targets all developing countries lacking adequate healthcare resources and infrastructure in this domain.
With a potential market of over a billion people and an estimated $80 billion in revenue, PatientFirst. AI is poised to make a significant impact on global healthcare.
It is a Pakistani initiative and it goes to the strategic and prudent policy-making on the part of the state of Pakistan to adhere to such potential, recognize it and transform it to the benefit of the overall state and nation-be it in financial, diplomatic, or soft power realms.
State-created National Center of Artificial Intelligence (NCAI) and recently drafted National Artificial Intelligence Policy are hopeful initiatives in this domain. But as with our precedents, our policies, unfortunately, fall short of real-time practical manifestation. Civil Societies, academia, and relevant private stakeholders, dealing in IT and AI, hence shall enforce upon the government to comply with its conceptualization of research and innovation-based culture, fiscal/non-fiscal incentives to start-ups/SMEs investing in AI-based services/technologies, defining data standards and invest in computational resources for the responsible use of organized datasets, centralized organizational support for the AI regime, strengthen international collaboration with both academia and industry and properly channel funds for the purpose. A separate private entity shall be constituted to undergo audit and accountability in such realms as well.
AI is a fledgling market and Non-State actors shall enforce upon the state to take it in a nation-benefitting trajectory while ensuring its own efforts in this domain.
The author is a graduate of International Relations. With the experience of working with two top-notch Think Tanks, namely IPRI and SDPI, she has in her credit Research Papers and a number of articles on various national and International platforms. She tweets @sana_hamid_here