AI in Bangladesh’s public policy

While discussions often centre on productivity and employability, public policy, a crucial component of governance, has not received as much focus.

Altap Hossen

Altap Hossen

The Daily Star


Will AI have a significant impact on its progress, or will it lead to worse things in Bangladesh when used as a tool for public policy? PHOTO: THE DAILY STAR

February 16, 2024

DHAKA – Artificial intelligence has generated a general buzz globally and cast its shadow on industries, prompting both wonder and wariness in all fields, including intellect, security and intelligence, diplomacy, and even religion. Bangladesh, as a developing nation, is not an exception to this phenomenon.

While discussions often centre on productivity and employability, public policy, a crucial component of governance, has not received as much focus. Will AI have a significant impact on its progress, or will it lead to worse things in Bangladesh when used as a tool for public policy?

In the realm of public policy, AI has the potential to revolutionise governance and address societal issues by analysing large amounts of data and finding connections and patterns that a human eye misses, allowing for more evidence-based and effective policy decisions, evaluation, and monitoring. Large machine learning (ML) algorithms can evaluate outcomes and trends, and natural language processing (NLP) algorithms can even figure out public sentiment from social media. The richness of information, both qualitative and quantitative, shapes social needs and concerns, guiding public policy with unmatched accuracy and shaping interventions that address complex policy needs.

We know that the Global North and Global South differ significantly in terms of policy efficiency, owing to factors such as strong institutions, stable governments, well-functioning governance, highly qualified workforces, and research expenditures that keep the Global North ahead of the curve in terms of policy design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. Meanwhile, in the Global South, where Bangladesh is, weak institutions and authoritarian political regimes, combined with limited resources and insufficient data, lead to the failure of public policies as intuition, hegemony, and guesswork-based policy decisions frequently fall short of expectations, wasting public funds and leaving the general public to bear the consequences.

For Bangladesh, AI represents a pathway to overcome present limitations and drive meaningful progress in policymaking process, monitoring, evaluation, and management with limited resources. While Bangladesh lacks the required efficient policy resource personnel, to make real progress, it can use AI as a catalyst to completely rethink public policy regimes for realistic and long-term advancement. The solution lies in AI’s localisation and strategic uses to address the complex public policy issues particular to the country, rather than a replication of the Silicon Valley AI strategy. Bangladesh needs customised AI solutions rather than pre-made formulas.

Ahead of us, we have a lot of proven examples of using AI to liberalise public policy regimes both in developed and developing countries. For instance, AI is used to optimise, but not be limited to, the distribution of healthcare resources, forecast weather and disease outbreaks, prevent deforestation, monitor air quality and criminal activities, and automate cross-border trade.

Bangladesh has digitised its social safety net programmes to streamline them and guarantee that government payments are accepted at the last mile. Still, there is a long way to go. AI could be used in Bangladesh to optimise the distribution of government resources efficiently, predict disease outbreaks, conduct law enforcement, further improve efficiency of social safety net programmes, and reduce the burden of lengthy legal procedures. More prominently, AI can be employed in early disaster warning systems, in the finance, international trade and logistics sectors, and in addressing environmental challenges.

Aside from government initiatives, the private sector, which provides the most revenue to the public sector, can use AI to have a significant impact from big data. Today, multinational organisations are increasingly using AI to support their policy objectives in a variety of areas, including detecting changes in behavioural patterns, for market research, and to devise prototypes. Corporations can use AI to evaluate data and find patterns, which not only helps steer their compliance operations by complying with complicated laws across domains, but also aids in policy advocacy. The private sector can also use AI to analyse their environmental impact and implement environment-friendly practices that comply with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) legislation. However, the country’s policy regime should ensure that AI does not widen the digital divide, in order to defend domestic private sector interests.

Bangladesh adopted the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (2019-2024) and created a roadmap that highlighted the effective and efficient delivery of public services. Though the country has made progress in many measures, accessing digital public services remains a difficult task in some circumstances, and AI tools can help the country enforce digital public service delivery more prudently.

It should be mentioned that the adoption of AI and automation, which is hailed as a productivity boost, poses a risk to transparency, accountability, and ethical issues related to algorithmic biases. Now, Bangladesh is at a crossroads where it must make responsible decisions to ensure that AI supports public policy without exacerbating existing inequities. This transformation must be gradual and responsible, with the development of localised AI capability. The country must invest in education and training to raise a new generation of politicians, public administrators, and entrepreneurs, and engage diverse stakeholders with AI tools to streamline commonalities for better outcomes and prudent amendment procedures.

AI could transform public policy in Bangladesh by helping to address societal issues and promote development. However, the adoption of AI in public policy comes with its own set of challenges and considerations, including algorithmic biases and data privacy concerns. By navigating these challenges responsibly and incorporating ethical considerations robustly, Bangladesh as a developing nation can harness the power of AI in its policy regimes to pave the way for a future in which AI is a boon rather than a burden. Over time, adopting a legal framework for the use of artificial intelligence is also necessary, as this can ensure the greater well-being of the country.

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