In the dynamic landscape of Southeast Asia (SEA), Generative AI (GenAI) emerges as a beacon of inclusivity, heralding a new era of connectedness and shared prosperity. The impressive potential of GenAI, as outlined in McKinsey’s 2023 report, positions it as a catalyst for unlocking up to $4.4 trillion in global economic value. This innovative force promises to redefine sectors ranging from customer service to research and development, infusing them with newfound efficiency and creativity.

At the intersection of digital adoption and economic growth lies SEA, a region uniquely positioned to leverage the potential of GenAI. Studies, including Kearney’s projection of an AI-injected $1 trillion boost to the SEA economy by 2030, see the region’s potential as nothing short of transformative. In a world where e-commerce and digital services are rapidly expanding, SEA is primed to embrace the GenAI revolution.

Despite the region’s promise, a challenge looms large. The concentration of AI expertise in few dominant markets poses a risk of widening the global technological divide. It is essential for SEA to carve a path of open innovation and inclusivity to ensure that GenAI becomes a force for good, accessible to all.

The inclusive path forward with AI

At the heart of an inclusive AI strategy is the adoption of open and accessible Large Language Models (LLMs). These sophisticated tools must be sensitive to SEA’s diverse languages and cultures to be truly effective. By promoting open-source access to these models, we can empower a wide range of individuals and businesses to innovate and tailor AI to their unique contexts, democratizing the technology’s potential.

A robust digital infrastructure serves as the backbone of this inclusive vision, ensuring that GenAI’s benefits are not the exclusive preserve of large enterprises but are equally accessible to the region’s vibrant SME sector and developers community. By strengthening the foundations with high-speed internet, local data centers, and advanced cloud services, SEA can nurture an innovation landscape where the cost of entry is no longer a barrier to AI adoption.

Recognizing the demand from industries to vigorously advance GenAI and the necessity for stakeholders to collaborate on GenAI regulatory guidelines, we believe a balance should be achieved among enablement, growth, and safety in the development of GenAI including LLMs. At Alibaba Cloud, we have set up guiding principles for our AI development to make technologies “available, reliable, credible, and controllable.” We invested in technologies, such as privacy-preserving computation and explainable AI, to increase our algorithm’s transparency and fairness, protect our users’ privacy and enhance data security.

As AI technologies like GenAI become more prevalent, discussions often turn to their potential impact on the workforce. Concerns about job displacement are valid and warrant thoughtful consideration. However, the inclusive approach to GenAI recognizes the technology’s role as an enabler. By focusing on AI’s capacity to augment human capabilities for higher efficiency and new opportunities, we should work towards upskilling and reskilling, preparing the workforce for a future where human creativity and machine intelligence coexist in synergy.

The future of SEA’s AI lies in the hands of its talents. By emphasizing the development of regional expertise through education and specialized training, SEA can build a reservoir of professionals who not only possess advanced technical skills but also an intimate understanding of local contexts. Such an initiative ensures that the expansion of AI technology is paired with economic empowerment, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem of innovation and opportunity.

Integrating inclusivity with Alibaba Cloud’s Vision

Alibaba Cloud envisions a SEA where technology transcends boundaries and empowers every individual. This vision comes to life through initiatives such as DAMO Academy’s open-source multilingual SeaLLMs and open-source AI model community ModelScope.

SeaLLMs, available on Hugging Face, are designed to embrace SEA’s linguistic diversity supporting non-Latin languages effectively including Indonesian, Malay, Thai, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Khmer and Burmese. The models perform well to local customs and cultures making them invaluable for businesses and individuals in the region.

In 2022, Alibaba Cloud brought up “Model-as-a-Service” initiative exemplified by ModelScope, hoping to lower the thresholds to AI model development, fostering a thriving open-source ecosystem especially for SMEs, startups, and developers. In 12 months, 2.8 million of developers, an equivalent of more than a third of developers in China, have tapped more than 2,300 AI models on ModelScope including multiple open-source versions of Alibaba Cloud’s proprietary LLM Tongyi Qianwen.

The cloud service provider’s dedication extends to its global partner ecosystem upgrade with $1 billion investment and nurturing digital talents across SEA, with partnerships in local education and community outreach that aim to create a tech-savvy workforce. Beyond providing technology, these initiatives are a commitment to equip the region with the skills necessary for an inclusive GenAI future.

Commitment and opportunity

As the leading Infrastructure-as-a-Service provider in Asia Pacific with the largest data center presence in Asia, Alibaba Cloud has been committed to building cloud infrastructures for GenAI applications and supporting digital transformation for local businesses through dedicated local teams, proven cloud solutions, and local data centers in SEA markets such as Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

The GenAI era holds untold potential for the global economy and SEA looks set to gain a lot from it. While its diverse markets have their own journeys, there are encouraging signs and signals about their respective abilities to thrive in the dawn of the GenAI era. By embracing holistic strategies that focus on empowering its people with the technology, infrastructure, and training opportunities needed to unlock and leverage GenAI, we believe the region is well-popised to achieve inclusive growth and economic transformation. As we continue to support the region’s journey, we are offering a vision of a connected and prosperous Southeast Asia.


With over 20 years of experience, Selina Yuan is the President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence International, the leading cloud platform in Asia and the top three in the world.

She leads the international division of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence Business Unit, heading a global team across APAC, Europe, Americas, and Middle East, and enabling cloud technology for millions of customers around the world. 

She’s often invited as a guest speaker in global tech events such as AHK Greater China Xceleration Days 2023, InnoTech Conference 2023, and London Tech Week.

TNGlobal INSIDER publishes contributions relevant to entrepreneurship and innovation. You may submit your own original or published contributions subject to editorial discretion.

2023 Round-up and 2024 tech predictions: Will AI frame the future?