When it comes to the ability to generate, arrange, and analyze content, generative AI is a gamechanger—one with transformative social and economic potential.
As a technology that is democratized—one that doesn’t simply exist in a faraway lab or tech community in Silicon Valley, for instance—generative AI lowers the barriers to participation. In the age of generative AI, anyone can be a creator. But this also entails a profound workforce shift, changing the processes of production within the economy and, in turn, the types of tasks that are undertaken and the skills needed to succeed.
This year, Microsoft commissioned global tech advisory firm Access Partnership, working alongside local partners including the Analytics Association of the Philippines, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), and the Center for Global Communications (GLOCOM) in Japan, to conduct country-level research on the potential economic impact of generative AI across Asia. The research estimates a potential boost to productive capacity of US$621 billion in India, US$1.1 trillion in Japan, and US$79.3 billion in the Philippines alone, with studies ongoing in Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea. These country findings are consistent with other global studies—for instance, a recent report by McKinsey estimates generative AI could add up to US$4.4 trillion a year to the global economy.
The potential economic growth is so large because generative AI has implications for most types of work: its impact can be thought of as comparable to that of digitalization in general, rather than that of a specific product. In particular, this huge injection of productivity will arise from three channels—generative AI’s potential to unleash creativity, accelerate discovery, and enhance efficiency.
While we cannot predict the future, it is likely that generative AI will serve as a “copilot” that augments people’s ability to perform their roles, thereby leading an evolution of tasks within roles rather than eliminating jobs altogether. For example, the Access Partnership research projects that 45% of workers in India will potentially use generative AI for up to 20% of regular work activities.
So, what exactly are the potential implications for industries, jobs, and skills?
Think of it as a digital update on the Renaissance. Given generative AI’s ability to provide outputs in a variety of formats—text, images, video, audio, computer code, and synthetic data—Asia is likely to see an explosion of new content. “While innovation will continue to need a human spark, generative AI can play a role in supporting the creative process,” says Ahmed Mazhari, president of Microsoft Asia.
By learning from large amounts of input data, generative AI can help create new content or simply reduce the time and cost involved in conceptualization. The technology has the potential to open up new possibilities and use cases in fields such as journalism, academia, creative arts, marketing, and product design—from the reporter seeking to quickly drum up story ideas to the brand strategist brainstorming concepts and the researcher looking for a rough draft to then sharpen and customize. Industry uses already abound: Coca-Cola, for example, has announced the use of generative AI to create personalized ad copy at scale, while Deloitte has found a 20% increase in code development speed.
Generative AI also stands to turbocharge the gig economy and solo entrepreneurship. For example, in India, where the number of individual creators is already on the rise, a survey of more than 1,600 freelancers found that 47% were using generative AI tools regularly and more than 50% reported a positive impact on their productivity. Meanwhile, as the Philippines strives to become Asia’s leading creative economy by 2030, generative AI can play a key role in professionalizing the work of the country’s freelancers.
The second way generative AI can deliver major economic impact is by accelerating the process of scientific and educational discovery. That might include reducing the cost of research—the technology’s capabilities to interrogate vast data sets, for example, can help develop and test hypotheses quickly and more cost-efficiently. That, in turn, can reduce the time required to design new medicines from years to weeks.
Based on Access Partnership’s analysis, roles such as biochemists and biophysicists, astronomers, biologists, bioinformatics scientists, and computer and information research scientists are likely to have the greatest share of their tasks transformed by generative AI.
Another economic benefit is generative AI’s role in improving educational outcomes. For example, the Japanese government recently announced plans to allow students from elementary to high school limited use of generative AI to facilitate in-class discussions and artistic activities. Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has brought in a generative AI chatbot to help students learn English. In India, the Integrating AI and Tinkering with Pedagogy (AIoT) program was launched last year to upgrade the curriculum at 50 schools.
The technology can also streamline class preparation and curriculum planning, enabling teachers to create personalized learning experiences based on an algorithmic analysis of student learning patterns and preferences. According to Access Partnership, this application of generative AI will lead to especially significant reprioritization of work activities for teachers in areas such as biological sciences, nursing, physics, geography, architecture, and computer science.
A third major area of economic impact involves enhancing workplace efficiency through generative AI’s ability to digest and summarize vast amount of information. The technology helps to make big data more interpretable and useful for decision-making, especially in industries that rely on large amounts of data or involve complex tasks, such as financial services, professional services, scientific research, and ICT. But equally, generative AI tools offer productivity benefits for workers in administrative fields—lessening their workloads and enabling them to refocus on higher-level or more interpersonally challenging work.
In Asia, there is a major opportunity for the business process outsourcing industry—so pivotal to many economies—to be an early mover in seizing potential efficiency gains. From automating workflows to real-time multilingual customer support, Mazhari believes that “given likely intensifying competition for global market share, leveraging the possibilities from generative AI may become an important competitive advantage.” In the Philippines, for example, he suggests the industry could refocus on specialist areas such as medical transcript preparation, as well as knowledge-based processes such as software development and market research.
While generative AI brings opportunities for all Asian economies, the transition also has to be carefully managed. Early movers can play a crucial role in shaping policies, regulations, and an environment that encourages innovation, investment, and responsible use.
Accountability has to be a core principle, to ensure that machines remain subject to effective oversight by people. Therefore, as generative AI capability grows, more organizations will need workers who oversee the reliable, fair, and ethical use of the technology. “There will still need to be human judgment to account for potential algorithmic bias, as well as person-to-person interaction to manage important stakeholder relationships,” Mazhari explains.
History suggests that technological advancements lead to the creation of new jobs and long-term economic growth, including the development of roles that can’t even be imagined today. Across Asia, the goal should be to ensure these opportunities are equitably distributed, along with investments to ensure the workforce is adequately prepared.
To thrive in a world of generative AI, people will have to apply the technology across a range of situations and work tasks. In both India and the Philippines, there are important initiatives underway to improve digital literacy across the whole population.
However, a collaborative approach from government, industry and education providers is essential. “Skilling programs exist today in pockets across Asia, but too many people are severely underserved because of race, gender, geography, displacement, or other barriers,” Mazhari says. The fact that 61% of students do not receive any digital literacy education at school in ASEAN countries means it is imperative that swift action is taken now—to ensure this technology’s economic impact in the future.
This content was produced by Microsoft. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.