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AI could reshape state

It is good news the government is poised to tap the transformative potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in giving inert administrative functions a much-needed boost. Some, however, wonder if the Srettha government's AI's dream will come true.

PM Srettha recently met industry giants Google and Microsoft and discussed the government’s plan to use digital technology development to improve government and administration work.

This will also be one of the topics discussed at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in San Francisco. That represents a significant move toward more technologically advanced and efficient government machinery.

Against that promise lies a myriad of challenges and problems like bureaucratic red tape, sluggishness, and opacity, which are dyed-in-the-wool parts of Thailand’s bureaucratic system. It remains a mystery how AI enthusiasts can crack Thailand’s bureaucratic labyrinth.

While the benefits of AI in streamlining processes and improving productivity are evident, the question that looms large is whether the bureaucratic structure is agile enough to adapt.

Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), has captured the essence of the problem. His analogy likening the bureaucratic system to outdated computer hardware struggling to cope with modern challenges is poignant. The bureaucratic “hardware” in this metaphor needs a substantial upgrade — not just a patch or quick fix.

As the government strives to upgrade the Thai OS (operating system), Dr Somkiat’s call will echo through the corridors of bureaucracy, urging policymakers to address not only the integration of AI but also the deeply rooted issues of red tape, lack of transparency, and corruption.

Red tape, corruption and a culture of secrecy are major hurdles that thwart any modernisation and far-reaching transformation effort.

One glaring example is the country’s “smart” ID cards. Despite it being in place for years, some government agencies still require citizens to provide personal paper documents. It is about time policymakers looked into this red tape and launched a system to assess the performance of agencies in using digital innovation to serve the public and enhance transparency. Agencies should be evaluated and promoted on its AI’s utilisation.

Despite all odds, the government’s initiative to embrace AI technology serves as a catalyst for broader societal dialogue. It prompts a fundamental question, how can Thailand not only adopt cutting-edge technology but also redefine the very essence of its bureaucratic machinery? A longer-term vision encompassing a comprehensive overhaul, spanning policy formulation to implementation, is imperative.

The government’s endeavour to usher in an era of AI-driven governance is heading in the right direction. Many routine tasks and services do not require human discretion but require big data gathering and AI processing.

However, the success of this effort hinges upon a more profound and systemic transformation.

As Thailand navigates the intricate terrain of technological advancement, the nation is faced not only with the challenge of upgrading its hardware but also with the opportunity to redefine its future.

Through strategic, well-calibrated reforms, Thailand can position itself at the forefront of the global digital landscape, setting an example for other nations to follow.

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