LAHORE: Even before Covid-19, Pakistan was dealing with multi-pronged crises, ranging from the economy to health, and digital rights. The pandemic, however, has significantly exacerbated the crises.
The precipitously rising problems have, in turn, given rise to global calls for similarly urgent solutions. In a world, where social distancing has become a basic necessity to fight the pandemic, digitization is an integral part of any solutions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data have been its vanguards.
But where AI is helping the world address the economic and health challenges, it has simultaneously raised alarm bells over possible misuse as states up the ante on surveillance. In Pakistan, where both the crises and rights concerns are significantly higher, AI practitioners are engaged in multiple battles to ensure collective uplift.
One such firm is Mountainise, which is providing solutions in Marketing Technology (martech) and Health technology (healthtech). Having received funding from Google and Segment.io, Mountainise is helping struggling businesses cope with the economic crunch through Lucrative AI.
In this interview, Muhammad Jalil, the Founder of Mountainise discusses how AI can help Pakistan fight the economic and health crises, while addressing the growing digital rights concerns.
How can Pakistani businesses benefit from Artificial Intelligence?
Muhammad Jalil: Simply put, Artificial Intelligence just takes raw data from business and converts it into actionable insights through machine learning. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Cost Per Mille (CPM) are the main sources of information for the AI system, which uses analytical and predictive capabilities to convert data into prediction models as well as prioritization of higher customer lifetime value expectancy.
So the benefits for businesses are unlimited essentially because with the analysis and performance optimization, as we deploy at Lucrative AI, firms can prioritize objectives and allocate resources to make the most effective decisions. As a natural consequence of smart and calculated decision making, sales and marketing will see an increase in output without any increase in input and that really is the beauty of AI.
Businesses don’t have to input anything additional to gain benefit from the AI system. For instance, Lucrative AI just organizes and optimizes decision making on the basis of existing data. For Pakistani businesses, this is an exciting opportunity to predict post-pandemic market situation and leverage their resources to get the most out of them. Not to mention, a better and more personalized understanding of their customers’ journey, through AI, is sure to improve sales and profits even in a post-Covid economy.
Can AI be beneficial for small and medium businesses?
MJ: AI can be designed for all types of businesses because it utilizes information to optimize business performance, so obviously there is something on offer for smaller businesses as well. In fact, small businesses can be streamlined more easily because they are more agile and have the capacity to move around their resources easily. With the predictive models, machine learning and information analysis of AI, small businesses will be able to stay afloat by allocating resources to essential areas.
We have to understand that AI relies on information and even in the middle of this pandemic there is plenty of information circulating. That is why Lucrative AI, along with other AI systems, offers immense benefits to small and medium enterprises as well. Most of all, machine learning can help these smaller businesses stay on top of the crisis and manage their marketing and sales strategy according to the situation. As the demands and needs of consumers have shifted during the pandemic, so too can the strategy and business decision of small and medium enterprises in accordance with the consumers. AI helps analyze the consumer journey so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t provide small and medium businesses with the tools to survive in the middle of a crisis where consumers are still indulged in consumption.
How has Artificial Intelligence progressed in Pakistan in recent years?
MJ: Even though the progression of Artificial Intelligence has been slow in Pakistan, yet the digital age has arrived and now we are seeing some real progress on this front. Tech businesses in Pakistan have realized the value in using artificial intelligence to analyze information and gain a competitive advantage in dynamically changing industries. This is why we have seen an explosion in the number of online businesses and e-commerce sites in Pakistan. Particularly in the case of Artificial Intelligence, the President’s Initiative on Artificial Intelligence and Computing (PIAIC) was started in 2018 which shows that the country is now beginning to take it seriously and explore the opportunities presented by AI.
In the face of the current pandemic, AI has huge implications since it can be used by the healthcare system to deal with the load of the pandemic. However, in order to progress further and rapidly in the field of AI, Pakistan needs to develop programs specifically targeted at harnessing this potential. Even though PIAIC is a step in the right direction, Pakistan still has much to do in order to be able to gain practical advantages by artificial intelligence especially in areas such as healthcare and agriculture where there is immediate need of technological advancement.
How can the government’s Digital Pakistan initiative boost the MarTech industry in Pakistan? Do you have any suggestions for the government?
MJ: The digital marketing initiative taken by the Pakistani government is important in the future development of the MarTech industry since it lays the foundations for new entrepreneurs to get involved in the field. Some of the key features of the Digital Pakistan initiative will help excel the MarTech industry, particularly the establishment of digital infrastructure improving connectivity and access to the internet throughout the country and the education of the youth regarding digital technologies and latest trends. This initiative is likely to motivate entrepreneurs to take the next step in their journey and establish startups that help promote the MarTech industry of Pakistan.
Of course, for a lasting and positive impact on the MarTech industry, the government will need to introduce digital marketing education as a compulsory course in regular universities and incentivize educational institutes to educate students regarding the tools and technologies that will help them in establishing startups. Particularly, it will help the development of advanced technologies in Pakistan that will help our country rival India and other rising economies in their digital boom. For that sustained efforts are necessary, over the course of many years because this is a necessary initiative that cannot be abandoned now.
Covid-19 has created a financial crisis the world over, especially for a crisis-struck economy like Pakistan. Can AI and big data help address the broader economic crisis?
MJ: To a large extent, yes. AI is all about organizing and analyzing data to make the best decision possible. The current financial crisis requires a series of well calculated decisions to be made to minimize the impact of Covid-19 and quicken the recovery process for the economy. Of course, this cannot be an isolated process and it must be integrated with the overall effort and economic policies of the government. Big data in particular can help manage the data related challenges in the financial sector of Pakistan by predicting the future of markets and allowing the government and related authorities to take action accordingly.
The biggest advantage of AI and big data in this financial crisis is the ability to eliminate uncertainty. Since these technologies are designed to provide accurate insights that help in decision making, so by utilizing them properly, struggling economies like Pakistan can understand the economic challenges and conditions that will present themselves as the world recovers from the pandemic. In such a situation, having the decisiveness and ability to act in time to mitigate the long term effects of the pandemic will be crucial for the economy and with AI and Big Data, this can be done.
How has covid-19 impacted the AI industry in general and Mountainise in particular?
MJ: Covid-19 has swiftly forced industries to automate which has allowed AI to become more involved in industries it was not so involved in before. Particularly as e-commerce has seen an increase in activity, so AI has come to the forefront by offering innovative solutions to the increase in buying and selling that is taking place online. Even in industries such as healthcare and agriculture, the need for automation increased when the pandemic began which has opened up opportunities for AI and it will give people an opportunity to see that AI can provide more benefits than the old fashioned way of doing things.
At Mountainise, the impact of Covid-19 has been similar to the rest of the industry. Employees work from home and online office spaces have become important in coordinating team activity. However, the level of performance has remained steady since the people at Mountainise are dedicated professionals. The pandemic has not stopped Mountainise from expanding the team however, and we have taken on new members since we believe that promoting employment in such a dire time is an effective way to give back to the community and contribute positively. Even though a remote culture has developed for the time being, the pandemic has allowed us to take advantage of an unprecedented situation and improve performance for ourselves and our clients.
Whenever there is a question of AI and big data, there are privacy concerns as well. How does Mountainise ensure that the data that it processes isn’t mishandled and remains secure?
MJ: The AI and Big Data technologies are all based on information and data. So if the protection of that data cannot be guaranteed then clients do not have any reason to trust us or come to us for their benefit. That is why Mountainise takes special care to ensure the privacy of its clients’ data and information. The data of our clients as well as the end user is equally important for us and it is our bread and butter. That is why we implement industry standard procedures and policies in protecting their data.
No sensitive information is ever shared with third parties that are not specified by us beforehand and the data of all of our clients is protected through transparency. We are upfront about the type of data we collect, why we collect it and how it is used throughout the process. This provides clients with a sense of assurance and privacy. Any sharing of sensitive information is completely disclosed to the client because we believe that the protection of rights, property, or personal safety of Lucrative, any of our end users, or any member of the general public is extremely important and should be guarded at all times.