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No to ‘crypto,’ yes to AI: Pakistan to train 1 million in AI as it prepares digital asset ban

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Pakistan wants to become a major player in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry and is seeking to train a million of its IT graduates in the emerging technology.

The Ministry of IT and Telecom launched the National Artificial Intelligence Policy this week, outlining the government’s plans to push AI adoption in the country. The goal is to establish a “hybrid intelligence ecosystem for equitable, responsible, and transparent use of AI,” it says.

Under its AI awareness pillar, Pakistan wants to train one million new and existing IT graduates in high-impact applied AI skills. It intends to employ at least 10,000 trainers to achieve its goals by 2027. It also plans to launch the National Artificial Intelligence Fund for on-job training and AI scholarships in its universities.

Pakistan will also launch a network of centers of excellence in AI and allied technologies nationwide.

The South Asian nation is the latest to focus on AI as the technology sweeps worldwide and adoption spikes. Home to nearly 250 million people, it’s the world’s fifth-most populous country. However, it doesn’t rank in the top 40 economies and falls below other regional peers, including the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia.

President Arif Alvi believes that Pakistan can make up for its economic shortcomings and leapfrog its peers through AI. Speaking at an AI event in March, he said the technology would supercharge the country’s ailing economy. 

“This (AI) provides a faster growth path to Pakistan’s economy than the world’s fastest bullet train. If we get on it (AI train), the world will be opened for us,” the president noted.

AI is already making inroads in the country and affecting national issues. This month, popular former Prime Minister Imran Khan shared a photo of a woman facing anti-riot police in defiance, describing her as the “epitome of true freedom.” The photo was widely shared on social media in support of the popular leader, who was arrested for a slew of charges.

However, days later, the French TV network France24 discovered that the photo had been generated by AI.

Pakistan joins a growing list of countries investing in AI after ChatGPT laymanized the technology and drew in millions of users since its launch last November. Italy recently announced that it was setting aside $33 million for workers it believes will lose their jobs to AI automation and to upskill the jobless with AI skills.

Pakistan says no to ‘crypto’

Pakistan has made a stand against digital currencies as it invests in AI.

“Cryptocurrency will never be legalized in Pakistan,” Aisha Ghaus Pasha, the Minister of Finance, told a parliamentary committee.

According to local reports, the ministry has already ordered the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Ministry of Information Technology to start working on a draft bill for a blanket ban on digital currencies.

The reason for the latest crackdown is to stay off the dreaded Financial Action Task Force (FATF) ‘gray list.‘ The list consists of countries FATF believes are vulnerable to money laundering and terrorism financing but are working with the task force to rectify the deficiencies. It affects financial decisions by partner governments and corporations, although FATF can’t impose direct sanctions.

The ban comes amid rising digital currency adoption in the country. Pakistan ranked third in 2021 and sixth last year for adoption globally in a Chainalysis study.

Ejad Labs’ Arzish Azam on CoinGeek Backstage: Pakistan must take advantage of blockchain tech

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