Asian companies lead the world in AI deployment, new research argues.

What’s new: Market research by MIT Technology Review Insights found that companies in the Asia-Pacific region are using machine learning faster and with better results than any other part of the world.

What they found: The authors interviewed over 1,000 executives and directors from businesses in a range of economic sectors around the globe. Roughly one-fifth work for companies in the Asia-Pacific region.

  • Ninety-six percent of the Asian executives interviewed said their companies were using AI, compared to 85 percent in the rest of the world. Both numbers have increased sharply since 2017.
  • Asian companies appear to be getting the most benefit from the technology, too. Forty-six percent of Asia-Pacific executives reported that their AI investments were exceeding expectations, as opposed to 37 percent of executives elsewhere.
  • Their businesses are using AI mostly to manage information technology, improve customer service, and conduct research and development.
  • Use of AI in sales and marketing is on the rise. While a third of Asian respondents have deployed models in these areas, 61 percent plan to by 2023. E-commerce sales driven by Covid-19, the authors say, will add momentum to AI-powered online customer service.

Data-driven growth: Nearly half of Asian executives surveyed said their companies’ AI ambitions were hindered by a lack of access to high-quality data. Most said that better legal protections and industry standards regarding data privacy and security would make them more willing to share datasets with other companies. Third-party data-sharing platforms like Singapore’s nonprofit Ocean Protocol could be part of the solution, the authors write.

Behind the news: Several Asia-Pacific governments have provided major support for IT infrastructure.

  • South Korea committed $4 billion last summer toward research and development including AI.
  • Singapore provides worthy startups with accreditation that helps attract investors.
  • In 2017, China released a national AI plan that includes a $2 billion R&D center near Beijing.

Why it matters: The survey shows that AI is thriving in places where the government provides both regulatory clarity and institutional support.

We’re thinking: Every country should develop policies to foster AI development or risk getting left behind.

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