Is it a coincidence that ‘Thailand’ contains the term ‘AI’?

Erawan Shrine
Coffee with apple pie
The floating bunny
And representing Rotterdam
Waiting at Central Station
Eat the rich
It's rainy in Korea
Joined at the breakfast table
A whole lot of penises
Playing with the python
On the run
Empty fields
Wat Umong
Be a man
At Wat Pha Lat
In the wild
The crowds at Beta
Happy at Beta
What's for dinner in Thailand?
At Doha airport
Ready to roll

If you’re any kind of change maker, or pretend to be one, proof that you’ve ‘made it’ is when others pay you, to listen to you speak. 

I don’t pretend to be a change maker, even if I am quite opinionated. But, just having an opinion is clearly not enough. Or, perhaps, with a more favourable reading, I just do crappy marketing for myself, in a world where everyone who pretends to know anything has a TikTok or YouTube channel.

But, for a change, I *am* now being paid to speak, while also being flown half way around the world to do so.

With Agência Pública, I’ve been working on a challenge of introducing AI, artificial intelligence, into the newsroom. We came up with two ideas. The simpler one of having a synthesised voice read news articles to improve accessibility, and a more complex one of using AI to analyse the impact of Pública’s investigative journalism on society.

From a large field of teams expressing their interest to participate, 12 were selected to take up the challenge and compete, and, eventually, five were selected to fly to Splice Beta, a journalism conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to present their work, and perhaps take home the grand prize of 25000 USD.

Splice Beta is a 2.5 day event, with a focus on innovative journalism in East and Southeast Asia, organised by a team of two, based in Singapore. The mashup with this global AI challenge is perhaps slightly unconventional, but with the majority of participants in the AI challenge coming from the Global South, it does make the connection a bit stronger, even if that meant that the two teams from Latin America, ourselves and a team from Colombia, had to travel for about 40 hours to arrive in Chiang Mai.

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The conference itself was great, as were the people and vibe, even if there was not enough of a focus on technology, and its related challenges. But, I’m biased and Google sponsored the event. As did YouTube.

With the journey between São Paulo and Chiang Mai being long, and the timezone difference being quite brutal, I opted to extend my trip to two weeks, including a short stop, on the way back, in The Netherlands, where I just missed attending my high school reunion on the occasion of the school celebrating its 75th anniversary.
The journey from São Paulo to Chiang Mai included the longest flight I’ve ever taken, from São Paulo to Doha, in Qatar, at 14.5 hours.

We, sadly, didn’t end up taking home the big prize. But, the real prize was the friends we made along the way. Right?

When I briefly returned to Chiang Mai, now 10 years ago, one thing I had noticed was that the local tourist industry had started pivoting to focus on Chinese visitors. Now, I noticed virtually nothing of this pivot. Some official signs were still also in Chinese, but practically none of the tourist-focussed businesses were advertising themselves as Chinese-oriented. Apparently, the underlying reason for the surge in Chinese visits, a few films that were shot in Chiang Mai, had dried up as a source of inspiration.

I took the opportunity of visiting Chiang Mai to also join a local hash, which happened to be an anniversary run, and a tough one; a 18.5km hike, mostly flat, but with the first section a tough off-road hike up a sizeable hill, or small mountain. With temperatures over 30 degrees, this was a challenge, if satisfying.

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Spending my time in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I also discovered I had completely forgotten several run-of-the-mill features of the country and culture. Everywhere smells of incense. Ice coffee in small cans. Toasties at 7/11. Fish balls.
The quality of life is still high in Thailand, even with their recent stack of political challenges. Weed is now freely available, after all drugs being heavily criminalised for decades.
But, one major difference between Thailand and Brazil, which I now realised on this visit, is that, as a western visitor or expat in Thailand, you will never be able to completely integrate, whereas in Brazil, with some knowledge of Portuguese, it’s fairly easy to embed yourself in the country.