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What does AI hold for the future of jobs and MSMEs?

I thought it was a coincidence that several of the activities I had participated in recently had a common intersection: digital technology. Looking back, it may not have been a conjunction of events at all, but rather a sign of the times.

A few weeks ago, I joined the President at several engagements during his week-long working visit to the United States for the 30th Asia-Pacific Economic Leaders’ Meeting in San Francisco, California. Among these was a meeting between the Philippine government and leading Silicon Valley companies to discuss Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity, specifically on how the Philippines can upskill and retrain workers given the rapid development in these fields.

There was an economic briefing for US businessmen to invite them to invest in the Philippines, and a meeting with the Semiconductor Industry Association, where we expressed our readiness for collaboration and our plans to prioritize the semiconductor and electronics industries in the country.

When I arrived back from the APEC meetings, I shared with the media my thoughts on our discussions with the tech companies and with investors abroad. What I realized was this: Artificial Intelligence presents both opportunities and threats for the Philippines.

We have to upskill our people if in case eventually these jobs will just be given to machines. AI is accelerating at such a phenomenal phase, and we want to ensure that Filipinos continue to be employed.

At the same time, the technology coming out of Silicon Valley presents many opportunities to level the playing field for small entrepreneurs. These technologies that are being brought to the whole world, including the Philippines, are going to present tremendous opportunities for our Filipino MSMEs.

What most of the delegates from the Philippines found worrying, however, was the potential threats and challenges posed by AI to the country’s business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, which employs more than a million Filipinos and is worth billions of dollars for the Philippine economy. Beyond direct employment, BPOs benefit the real estate industry and the many small businesses that serve both their in-office and remote

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