Artificial Intelligence era ‘opportunity for Turkey’
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the new “oil” of the near future and can provide huge opportunities for Turkey, says Tansu Yeğen, who has spent 28 years of his career in the high-tech market. Not many countries have started prioritizing AI, which creates an advantage for Turkey, if it were to take action without wasting time, according to Yeğen, currently the vice president of a company on robotic process automation and AI.
Where does Turkey stand on the issue of AI?
AI is on the agenda of executives and companies. Or let me phrase it like this: It is one of the priority issues on their agenda. But, in fact, people are trying to understand how to benefit from AI.
Today, a lot of people do not know what AI, machine learning and deep learning are.
In other words, everybody talks about AI but don’t exactly know what it is. But with a 30.7 age average, we are a young country that is very open to novelties, and AI offers big opportunities for our country.
China and the United States are making billions of dollars of investments in AI, because they both know the electricity or the oil of the next century is AI. In both countries, the state takes the ownership of the issue. If you leave aside a few countries like Canada and Germany, most other countries are mulling on how to adapt themselves to AI.
In our country, we have around 65 startup companies focused on AI and fewer than 10 are doing a really good job on it.
Institutions in Turkey try to use AI because global giants like Microsoft, Google and Amazon have started to provide AI as a service. Just to give you an example: Let’s say in the past a worker would have gone around to look at the cars to see if they are harmed while getting off a container, while cameras are instantly doing this now for you. Big or small, many companies in Turkey are trying to make use of these services of global giants. So they have started to do the necessary investments to get these services.
According to a research made public last month, 87 percent of the 500 CEOs in the U.S. who have taken part in the poll said they will invest in AI this year.
This is striking because this is twice when compared to last year. It shows us that institutions and companies say AI is very important for them and their competitiveness.
Why is it so?
There is one reason you hear from CEOs on their policy to invest in technology, especially in the course of the past two years: To be faster.
But AI is not just an issue for companies. In terms of individuals, we already have started to come across AI. This is also valid for Turkey, with Spotify, Netflix or social media.
AI has actually entered our lives in Turkey. Shopping websites in our country use AI in an intensive way. In a way, we started to use AI even if we are not totally aware of it.
In Turkey, and in the world, we have been talking about digitalization, digital transformation for years; but there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially on three issues: AI, software robots and process optimization.
A bank in Turkey uses over more than 20 robot software, whereas in Japan, a bank uses 3,000 robot software. In Western Europe, companies are using between 100 to 500 robot software. The world average of the use of robot software is 19 percent but it is 70 percent in developed countries.
On the positive side; our country has met with robot software in the course of the past one year, yet some institutions have adapted incredibly fast.
The top 10 banks in our country, mobile operators and several holdings have integrated the robot software. Turkish companies started to think whether a robot software can do the same without hiring a person.
In a way, our country really loved AI and robot software. Somehow, without us being totally aware of it, AI has been introduced to the center of companies.
My understanding is that the private sector is pioneering in AI rather than the state?
The state started to become active on the issue. As a state, we do have a strategy on AI. The Education Ministry is taking action. Some of the universities started to open AI departments.
Are we good enough on AI? No but I have to say that not many countries are good. Few countries, like China, are exceptions. AI is in the curriculum in China, starting almost from elementary school, for instance.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), 52 percent of jobs will be done by robots (both robot software and physical robots) by 2025. WEF also says that by 2022 there will be 130 million new jobs. But of those, 70 million will be done by robots, which is not too bad because that leaves nearly 60 million jobs for individuals.
But there is also a warning in the report. Some 54 percent of that 60 million cannot work in these jobs with their current skills. Then the states, the institutions and the people have to prepare themselves to this future. And when I say future, actually 2022 is only 3 years later.
As a country we really need to focus and make sure we have the strategy adopted to be well implemented. First and foremost, education is very important.
I believe it needs to start from elementary school, but it has to be equally good in high school.
Universities should have compulsory courses on AI and they should work inventively on it.
Companies should not only prioritize AI, they should support startup companies. Our entrepreneurial startup ecosystem needs to shift totally towards AI. If I were the states or the companies, I would positively discriminate AI companies.
Whatever we wanted to do on AI, we should have started it yesterday. Each lost day will keep us behind in terms of the leap forward we could go in terms of AI.
The good thing is that not many developed countries have endorsed an aggressive policy on AI.
That’s why I believe there is a huge opportunity or Turkey on AI.
But do you think it could be difficult for Turkey to make this leap forward on AI?
I have a Twitter account, and most of the times I tweet about robots. The youth in Turkey love it.
When I am very busy and I don’t tweet for a while; they immediately ask me why I am not tweeting.
They ask: “Have you run out of technology?”
Looking to the political, social and economic agenda, one feels Turkey is years away from understanding the importance of AI.
The advantage of the current situation is that many countries are at the beginning of the stage.
Even those countries which are seriously much more developed than Turkey have not yet prioritized AI. This is a huge advantage for us. But if we do not take action now, it will leave our country behind. Either let’s go in parallel with current developments or let’s go ahead of it. But we have no luxury of staying behind.