(Screenshot/File photo)

MANILA – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday urged the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to put safeguards for business process outsourcing (BPO) workers who may be affected by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots.

A recent study by United States-based technology research firm Gartner said call centers could save up to USD80 billion if humans are replaced by AI by 2026.

“Is the BPO industry in trouble, too? Does Secretary (Alfredo) 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 (It will have a big effect in the BPO industry so we should be ready for it),” Hontiveros said in a statement.

A chatbot is a computer program that uses AI and natural language processing to understand customer questions and automate responses to them, replacing human conversation, according to American multinational technology corporation IBM.

The Philippine BPO industry earns around USD30 billion yearly, the same as the contribution from the remittance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), according to Hontiveros.

The senator said BPO, OFW and tourism earnings sustain 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 added 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.

Hontiveros said the DTI and Department of Information and Communications Technology must 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.

“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 said. (PNA)