AI race in Southeast Asia heats up as Microsoft pledges to upskill 2.5 million people by 2025

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Microsoft has committed to upskilling 2.5 million people with AI know-how across Southeast Asia by 2025. 

In particular, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines will stand to benefit from these initiatives announced by Microsoft chairman and CEO Satya Nadella during his visit to Jakarta.

He also announced a US$2.2 billion investment in cloud and AI infrastructure in Malaysia while in Kuala Lumpur following his Jakarta trip, including working with the Malaysian government to establish a national AI centre of excellence and enhance Malaysia’s AI and cybersecurity capabilities. 

Singapore is not on the list due possibly to its discerning foresight on AI and strong support from the government in boosting AI capabilities over the coming years.

The AI race among Microsoft, Google and OpenAI has been intensifying in recent months, with Apple rumoured to be the dark horse secretly developing its own AI trump card. 

Fierce competition among these powerhouses has helped to drive rapid advancements in AI (including GenAI) and its applications across multiple industry sectors globally, while steering conversations about ethical considerations and AI’s place in this world. 

Human ingenuity key to shaping AI progress

AI is poised to contribute nearly US$1 trillion to Southeast Asia’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030. 

Microsoft’s AI upskilling initiatives for Southeast Asia will focus on four key areas, namely, building an inclusive, AI-ready workforce, bridging the cybersecurity talent gap, enhancing developers’ AI skills, and empowering non-profit organisations to maximise their social impact. 

Programmes will be rolled out in partnership with governments, non-profit and corporate organisations, and communities across the five countries, building on Microsoft’s long history of helping to close the digital skills gap in the region. 

In Indonesia, the most populous country in the region, Microsoft will work with the ASEAN Foundation to train students on AI skills, in addition to expanding its partnership with the United Nations Development Programme to help the underserved communities enhance work readiness and employability through enabling AI fluency skills. The latter will be extended to Malaysia and Vietnam to benefit 570,000 youth across the three countries. 

Microsoft’s Ready4AI&Security programme will also train 15,000 young individuals in Indonesia and Malaysia and offer opportunities for women to develop cybersecurity careers, including providing access to Microsoft’s security training and certifications. 

For Thailand, where tourism is considered the most robust in the region, Microsoft is introducing the AI Skills for the AI-enabled Tourism Industry programme, in collaboration with three government ministries, to develop some 100,000 young entrepreneurs throughout the country. 

In the Philippines, Microsoft will help equip 1 million students from kindergarten to grade 12 with AI and cybersecurity skills to ensure their readiness for future careers and employment opportunities. It will also reinforce its collaboration with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to train female learners on AI and cybersecurity skills. 

For developers, Microsoft’s Asia AI Odyssey programme aims to train some 30,000 developers in the region and test them on technical competencies required to build transformative AI applications. 

Broadening Malaysia’s digital capacity to seize AI opportunities

“We are committed to supporting Malaysia’s AI transformation and ensure it benefits all Malaysians,” said Satya Nadella. “Our investments in digital infrastructure and skilling will help Malaysian businesses, communities, and developers apply the latest technology to drive inclusive economic growth and innovation across the country.” 

The US$2.2 billion investment will enable Microsoft to meet the growing demand for cloud computing services in Malaysia, and allow Malaysia to leverage the significant economic and productivity opportunities presented by the latest AI technology. 

IMAGE: Microsoft

YB Senator Tengku Datuk Seri Utama Zafrul Abdul Aziz, Malaysia’s Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry said, “Microsoft’s 32-year presence in Malaysia showcases a deep partnership built on trust. Indeed, Malaysia’s position as a vibrant tech investment destination is increasingly being recognised by world-recognised names due to our well-established semiconductor ecosystem, underscored by our value proposition that ‘this is where global starts’.” 

“Microsoft’s development of essential cloud and AI infrastructure, together with AI skilling opportunities, will significantly enhance Malaysia’s digital capacity and further elevate our position in the global tech landscape. Together with Microsoft, we look forward to creating more opportunities for our SMEs and better-paying jobs for our people, as we ride the AI revolution to fast-track Malaysia’s digitally empowered growth journey.” 

Microsoft will work with Malaysia’s Ministry of Digital to drive AI adoption across key industries including the public sector, and ensure AI governance and regulatory compliance.

“Microsoft’s commitment to Malaysia demonstrates confidence in our nation’s digital future. Through this investment in cloud and AI infrastructure, local organisations can tap into more opportunities to upscale and innovate, further propelling Malaysia’s aspirations for regional leadership in the digital economy,” said Ts. Mahadhir Aziz, CEO, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC). 

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