The state of AI in APAC

China’s recent launch of a three-year AI roadmap has kickstarted a swathe of AI activity in Asia-Pacific.

AI interest and adoption rates are rising across the region, as companies move to harness cognitive intelligence and related technologies. IDC found software and services technology were underpinning a growth in spending to $5 billion (CAGR increase of 69.8% over 2016–2021).

Financial services and banking is one of the industries singled out, alongside retail, as driving much of the demand. Both are expected to invest in a variety of customer service-related innovations, such as automated agents and recommendation systems.

Healthcare is another industry singled out for strong growth, with major investments expected in diagnosis and treatment systems. Within APAC regions, the diverse activity includes


Japan has been facing a well-documented twin challenge of ageing population coupled with declining birth rate. In response, the country has been leading the way in developing robotics as the solution. Notable examples include Robear, the nursing robot that can assist people move around and even lift them out of bed and into a wheelchair. The Japanese government now wants to expand the innovation, setting out a strategy for ‘those who wish to have robots used when undergoing care’ to increase to 80% by 2020.


A mixture of strong government support and established business has positioned Singapore as an AI pioneer. Earlier this year ecommerce giant Alibaba chose Singapore as the location of its first AI institute outside China. This vote of confidence comes soon after the city-state set up the Singapore Data Science Consortium to regulate AI-related innovation. “To encourage the adoption of AI, we will adopt the same progressive regulatory stance as we have with other innovative technologies,” explains the Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is another APAC region where Alibaba has been making investment-related inroads. The city has benefitted from funding (from Alibaba and other partners) to develop a non-profit AI lab for researchers, startups and industry participants. The government is also supporting Hong Kong’s AI growth, pledging to reinvest ‘a large amount’ of its budget surplus ‘on developing the I&T industry, namely in four areas: biotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), smart city development and financial technology (fintech).


AI features highly in the Australian government’s current thinking. A recently signed $1 billion partnership with IBM aims to accelerate public sector take-up of blockchain, AI and quantum computing. The deal is seen as a way to give the population access to these technologies, while supporting governmental digital transformation strategies. The move comes after Google advised Australia to speed up AI adoption to avoid missing out ‘on a $2.2 trillion boom’.


Naturally, in a region so diverse, APAC reports contrasts in attitudes and potential to take advantage of AI. Alongside cross-border variations in infrastructure, there are huge variations in the volumes of consumer data available. For example, a KPMG study previously found just 27% of the region’s 600 million inhabitants had a bank account.

There’s also the well-documented AI skills shortage (the greatest barrier to implementation according to an EY study). Meanwhile, McKinsey believes that ‘For artificial intelligence to take hold in Southeast Asia, the region needs more defined business use cases, better data ecosystems, and more concerted talent-development efforts’. If APAC is to accelerate its AI momentum, these factors mean that’s it’s as much about integrating people and culture, as it is about harnessing systems and infrastructures.

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