Press Release
January 31, 2023

Hontiveros to DTI: Protect BPO industry amid rise of AI

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday urged the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to put safeguards in place for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) workers who may be affected by the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbots.

According to US-based technology research firm Gartner, call centers could save up to $80 billion if humans are replaced by AI by 2026. The global tech giants are experiencing an upheaval, in part because of the surprising acceleration and commercial attractiveness of AI deployments.

"Is the BPO industry in trouble too? Does Sec. Pascual, being at the helm of the DTI, have a plan for when more companies invest in AI instead of workers? Malaki ang magiging epekto nito sa ating BPO industry, sa ating ekonomiya, kaya dapat ngayon pa lang handa na ang ahensya sa posibilidad na ito," Hontiveros said.

The Philippine BPO industry earns around $30 billion yearly -- the same as OFWs. The senator stressed that BPO earnings are one of the three legs, alongside tourism and OFW incomes, on which the sustainability of the country's import intensive growth stands.

"If this industry gets into trouble, then dollars become scarce, they become more expensive, and the peso devalues. A pathway to entry into the middle class will also disappear," Hontiveros said.

The senator also said that while preparing for the future of AI in the country, the DTI should simultaneously have a stronger campaign to protect the industry and its workers. "The IT-BPO industry seems to know what it needs to survive and thrive in the time of Chat GPT and, at the conceptual level at least, I think Secretary Pascual does too," says the Senator.

"I know that Secretary Pascual is aware of the bright prospects and novel risks faced by the IT-BPO industry: I agree with him when he says that current systems of learning are not yet agile enough for our industries to stay ahead of the AI curve. He must make sure that industry is able to directly and quickly influence the offerings of schools. Maybe work places themselves should now be the schools, or should at least be supported in defining a continuing education pathway for workers. In that way, workers will always know what sets of skills will enable them to work alongside these intelligent machines, instead of being replaced by them."

The Senator believes that a corner has been turned in the local IT-BPO industry's "battle for talent." But she warns that "the DTI and the DICT will also have to ensure sustained improvements in connectivity so that the work-anywhere model that is now central for talent retention will remain technically feasible even as clients' service standards continue to rise."

"Maraming kumpanya ang nagtatayo ng call center sa Pilipinas dahil mismo sa kakayanan at abilidad ng Pilipinong manggagawa. The DTI should constantly highlight the particular care and attention that Filipino workers offer, a kind of service and human connection that no chatbot can ever provide," Hontiveros concluded.

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