Philippine outsourcing industry braces for AI

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A display shows a vehicle and person recognition system for law enforcement during the NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference, which showcases artificial intelligence. AFP

MANILA (Reuters) – The outsourcing industry in the Philippines, which has dethroned India as the country with the most call centres in the world, is worried that the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) will eat into the $23 billion sector.

AI-powered translators could dilute the biggest advantage the Philippines has, the wide use of English, an industry meeting was told this week. Other AI applications could take over process-driven jobs.

The Philippines’ business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is an economic lifeline for the Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people. It employs about 1.15 million people and, along with remittances from overseas workers, remains one of the top two earners of foreign exchange.

“I don’t think our excellent command of spoken English is going to really be a protection five, 10 years from now. It really will not matter,” said Rajneesh Tiwary, chief delivery officer at Sutherland Global Services.

The Philippines, which was an American colony in the first half of the 20th century, overtook India in 2011 with the largest number of voice-based BPO services in the world.

“There’s definitely reasons to be concerned because technology may be able to replace some of what could happen in voice,” Eric Simonson, managing partner of research at Everest Group, a management consulting and research firm, told Reuters.

AI, which combs through large troves of raw data to predict outcomes and recognise patterns, is expected to replace 40,000 to 50,000 “low-skilled” or process-driven BPO jobs in the next five years, said Rey Untal, president and chief executive officer of the IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP).

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