Nepal has a wealth of software talent in information technology, and this need to be converted to work with AI, Shrestha says. Fusemachines and other AI-centred companies are already collaborating with local engineering colleges to build a critical mass of AI expertise in Nepal.
Kai-Fu Lee, the former president of Google China and an AI expert, wrote the book AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order. He predicts that in the coming decade a country will forge ahead if it has ‘an army of well-trained engineers and entrepreneurs, AI scientists … with abundant data and a supportive policy environment’.
‘China is able to apply skilled AI in various areas, like healthcare, finance, safety systems and systems for smart houses,’ Lee writes, adding, ‘poor countries will stagnate while the AI superpowers take off.’
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Shrestha thinks Nepal has not done enough in AI adoption compared with other countries. “Nepal has a very young population, which means we can incorporate AI in the curriculum to reach a huge segment of the population, and we are hoping to be able to develop talents within a year or two on a mass scale. There is a tremendous opportunity for Nepal to lead and make a huge impact,” says Shrestha, who sees immediate applications of AI in the tourism industry.
“Nepal can zero in on the right kind of tourist and make sure our ads and messaging is getting to them. That will increase the volume of tourists coming to Nepal and will make sure tourists have a good quality of experience,” she adds.
Nepal will also have to catch up with its immediate neighbours in opening payment gateways on the Internet and promoting e-commerce. For example, China has already moved beyond phone-based payment with AI-based face recognition systems on Alipay, in which people pay their bills by scanning their faces at a checkout point without having to use their mobiles.
Although online payment gateways such as eSewa and IMEPay have been established here, Nepal is still miles away from having a mature e-commerce system. The government’s 2019 Digital Nepal Framework admits: ‘The growth of e-commerce in Nepal is inhibited due to the lack of a supporting ecosystem such as limited digital payment options.’
While others have already taken a leap in device-free commerce, if Nepal can at least make internet payment through mobile phones secure and convenient during the coming decade, that will already be an achievement.