by: Sidney Liquigan
In the age of automation, many companies in the IT-BPO industry are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to cut operational costs. The emergence of AI and the increase in the kinds of work processes that automated systems can handle is a clear threat to the Philippine BPO industry, which is currently largely reliant on relatively simple tasks. However, the Philippine government has found a solution to help BPO workers keep their jobs while also taking advantage of technological innovations.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), with the help of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and tech company AI Pros, plan to train BPO workers on the use of Augmented Intelligence (AI2). AI2 refers to the use of IT in enhancing human intelligence.
"Instead of AI replacing jobs in the IT-BPO industry, which is estimated to affect half of the 1.3 million jobs in the sector, the workers will be trained to make use of AI2-enabled systems," said DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez. According to Lopez, this training is a way to take advantage of the AI system as a solution to the so-called threats that it may bring.
"We are the first country to launch this kind of initiative. Instead of looking at AI as a threat to the BPO industry, the Duterte administration is using AI2 to provide more opportunities for inclusive growth," Lopez added.
DTI anticipates AI2 to improve the competencies of BPO workers and targets 482,000 unskilled workers to learn to do low-skilled work, 525,000 low-skilled workers to learn mid-skilled work, and 309,000 mid-skilled workers to become eligible for high-level jobs.
To elaborate, AI2-enabled systems still need humans to operate them. Data-driven technologies can process data and suggest predictions and patterns faster, but these are based off of algorithms that were programmed into the system by a person. As the term "augmented intelligence" suggests, these systems are not meant to replace humans, but rather to augment their intelligence so they can be more efficient in their jobs.
In the BPO industry, data processing and analytics will be one of the fields that will be affected by the AI threat. There are technologies now that can perform in-depth data mining, eliminating the need for data entry professionals. To help them stay in the workforce, the AI2 training program will upskill data entry professionals to handle more complex tasks such as creating strategies and drawing conclusions from the trends and patterns identified by the systems from the data.
Customer service agents can also benefit from the AI2 training program. Augmented intelligence platforms have the ability to provide insights into customer behavior and can predict their needs. The workers will be trained to understand these insights and determine the appropriate actions to deliver according to customer expectations.
In digital marketing, we've been encountering AI2-enabled algorithms every day. Researchers and marketers make use of internet algorithms to study each individual's online activity. The information will then be used to improve products and services and come up with creative advertisements that will reach the right audience at the right time.
Acting DICT Secretary Eliseo Rio said that the training program is part of the "Philippine AI Workforce" brand campaign, which aims to open more job opportunities to Filipinos as well as to extend the development outside the metro.
"We will train and enable our workforce, regardless of their background and experience, to use AI2 to perform smarter and complete difficult tasks, and help them move up the value chain," Lopez said. He also confirmed that this initiative is also open to non-BPO workers, so every Filipino can learn to work with AI and advance in their respective fields.