To take the leap, Bangladesh must adopt AI

Artificial intelligence will benefit our scientific, technological and socio-economic research

With the deployment of 4IR, Bangladesh will do well to take advantage of the opportunities it offers by adopting AI. Source: GEF

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With the deployment of 4IR, Bangladesh will do well to take advantage of the opportunities it offers by adopting AI. Source: GEF

The year 2019 was a turning point in the history of Bangladesh when it achieved self-sufficiency in rice production, especially since rice provides over 70% of the national calorie supply. In that year, annual rice production increased 3.5 times over what it was in 1971. Although Bangladesh still needs to import a small amount each year, the time of any shortage rice major is practically over. How has the country achieved this miracle, especially as available farmland is shrinking?

Much of this credit goes to our farmers, but another major contributor to this spectacular achievement is our scientific community. Bangladeshi scientists are continuously developing new varieties of rice in different research centers. For example, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) has so far released more than 100 varieties with higher yield, better salinity and stress tolerance, and greater micronutrient content. One way to identify a new variety is to improve its genetic potential through biotechnology and genetic engineering research. However, such a research process is laborious – it takes nearly 16 years, followed by three more for field trials and farmer adoption. But genetic potentials can begin to deteriorate rapidly. Therefore, scientists must continually work on more varieties before the existing ones lose their yield potential. This means that research must accelerate.

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This is where artificial intelligence (AI) can help. A research process includes routine tasks and intellectual effort, both of which are essential for a successful outcome. AI can relieve researchers of routine tasks (such as reviewing existing literature and analyzing large volumes of data), freeing up valuable time for intellectual endeavours. AI can also offer different ways to study the same problem, radically accelerating the discovery process and enabling breakthroughs.

The most common benefit researchers have reported from using AI is that it helps reveal patterns, increase the speed and scale of data analysis, and formulate new hypotheses. Additionally, searching online journal repositories and documents (such as patents and reports) is much easier and faster with AI-based tools. One of the greatest benefits of AI, however, is the synergy achieved from multidisciplinary research, where relevant information is spread across multiple domains. AI-powered tools sift through them all in no time to surface relevant information. Another of these advantages is the development of complex algorithms and correlations between many parameters, which is otherwise extremely difficult, time-consuming and often humanly impossible. All of these features of AI-powered tools can empower and accelerate research work in every conceivable discipline, such as science, technology, engineering, social sciences, public health, finance, and medicine.

The power of artificial intelligence to facilitate research programs is amply demonstrated in the speed with which Covid-19 vaccines have been developed. Sars-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid, was first identified in December 2019. On December 11, 2020, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) the United States. Previously, the fastest developed vaccine was for mumps, which took four years. AI was an essential tool in the development of the Covid vaccine. It has accelerated the analysis of large volumes of data, the identification of risks, the improvement of performance and the efficiency of production and distribution.

Globally, the use of AI in research activities is increasing exponentially. It has become an essential tool for any knowledge economy. A report by PwC said that by 2030, AI would bring $15.7 trillion to the global economy. Potentially, a nation can increase its wealth by up to 26% by deploying AI. Bangladesh could also benefit from AI – provided it uses this emerging technology with caution – on its journey to becoming a developing country by 2026 and beyond.

But the path to becoming a developing country is not easy. This can potentially lead to dead ends, as has happened in many countries. They have fallen into what is called the “middle income trap”. These countries have failed to move from resource-driven growth with cheap labor to production-driven growth. Bangladesh needs to move up the ladder of the global value chain (GVC) by undertaking knowledge-based research and development. AI offers an opportunity to do just that, avoiding falling into the middle-income trap. Once AI-based tools are introduced into research agendas, they will soon spread everywhere, including industry, education, governance, and service delivery. All of this will help Bangladesh gain a higher competitive edge in the global arena.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) unfolds, Bangladesh stands at a critical moment in history. Its transition from a less advanced country to a developing country and beyond coincided with a huge opportunity for technological leapfrogging by adopting AI-based tools. This is an opportunity not to be missed.

Dr. Sayed Ahmed is a consulting engineer and CEO of Bayside Analytix, a technology-focused strategy and management consulting firm.

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