ISLAMABAD      -         President Dr Arif Alvi Monday said Pakistan should focus on educating its human resource keeping in view the scope of employment and future needs of the market to take full advantage of digital revolution.

Addressing the inaugural session of three-day conference on “Sustainable Development in a Digital Society”, organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), he said training of the human resource was a must to drive the engine of technological advancement and tap its full potential.

President Alvi said the Fourth Industrial Revolution had started making information and communication technology an integral part of routine life, like never before. In view of gearing up for future challenges, he said, the Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence and Computing had been started to train the youth to effectively utilize technology for their personal good as well as for the collective interest of the country’s economy and society.

He mentioned the importance of Artificial Intelligence in healthcare provision, agriculture, and waste reduction in industrial and commercial operations. The president urged the private sector, universities and independent researchers to bridge the communication gap of policies and implementation to enable Pakistan face the coming revolution confidently. He said the governments of Japan and Germany, and also the Silicon Valley had showed their willingness to hire around 100,000 graduates each from Pakistan, if they met required standards. However, out of 26,000 bachelors in information technology produced by the country, only 6,000 were fit for employment, he added. He stressed the need to improve teaching standards to produce the educated people, who were really good for the country’s development. He said sustainable development in digital age and the people’s thinking were inter-linked as the digital revolution was impacting the people’s daily lives.

He said since intellectual race was on the rise across the world, it was important for Pakistan to join it. Besides some negative aspects, the digital revolution had many positive things to contribute in the fields of health, education and poverty alleviation, he added. Referring to the incumbent government’s initiatives to utilize modern technology for poverty alleviation, the president said under its flagship anti-poverty programme Ehsaas, it would disburse cash grants to the poor women through their mobile wallets. He suggested that the technology could revolutionize the agriculture sector by educating the farmers about the growing seasons, crop requirements, and water and fertilizers needs as per weather conditions.

He said the knowledge, particularly in domain of higher education, had been uploaded to the ‘Cloud’, giving benefit to the people not to visit universities or libraries.  Taking about the challenges of digital age to human race, he said as science was experimenting genetic modification, there existed some ethical barriers too. The president said no one including the governments were powerful enough to undo the challenges of digital age to the society and exemplified the Facebook, which had become influential even more than the governments.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, he said, had also uniquely impacted the minds and modified the thinking abilities of the groups through new phenomena like fake news. The president, however, stressed that the sustainable development must be aimed at addressing the disparity between the rich and the poor, which required contribution of both the governments and the multinational companies. The latter should be responsible for community, clients and future generations, and not for their own profits alone. President Alvi said Pakistan would also have to look into possible impacts of the use of artificial intelligence in the cyber war.  Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar said Ehsaas was a multi-sector and multi-component programme encompassing 130 programmes and policy initiatives.

It was a government-run programme with the involvement of 34 federal ministries and departments, besides the private sector also contributing in its execution, she added. She said non-governmental organizations (NGOs)  were also being engaged under Ehsaas as a Karachi-based NGO had launched soup kitchen to feed the poor.

Besides on December 13, a hackathon would be held in collaboration with the Facebook to create mass awareness on the issue of malnutrition, she added. Regarding the utilization of technology in its initiatives, she said a digital online education system through mobile phones would be introduced to facilitate the people in far flung areas, besides establishing agricultural value chains for the farmers. Moreover, she said, the prime minister had recently approved a policy under which 70 million women would be transferred cash assistance through their mobile wallet. SDPI Executive Director Abid Sulehri said the conference attended by delegates from 18 countries would divulge upon multiple angles of digital age such as financial inclusion, taxation, governance, women entrepreneurship and youth, food security, health, artificial intelligence, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and use of social media in highlighting important issues like the Kashmir crisis.

He mentioned that impact of digital era on politics including Twitter diplomacy and possibilities of sudden technological shift into harsh situations would also come under discussion.

SDPI Board of Directors Chairperson  Ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel said about 30 concurrent sessions of the conference would look at how digital technologies were contributing to environmental, economic, cultural and political inclusiveness, and cooperation, besides sharing research and best practices.

Former Board of Investment chairman Haroon Sharif said digitalization was a topic relevant to everyday life and required effective policy-making addressing its pros and cons.