Keynote Address: Big Data Forum 2023

Keynote Address by the Honourable Pennelope Beckles,

Minister of Planning and Development



At the Trinidad and Tobago Big Data Forum


Keynote Speaker on Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and the future smart society – The Reality of Advanced Big Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Planning for the Future




10:00 a.m.

November 21, 2023

The Hyatt Regency Hotel, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain

  • Ms. Joanna Kazana, United Nations Resident Coordinator
  • My fellow panellists:

Professor Prakash Persad, Principal, University of Trinidad

and Tobago

Mr. Kevan Rajaram, Director, PriceWaterhouse Coopers

  • Distinguished Members of Government, Academia, Public and Private Sectors
  • Heads of the four United Nations Agencies responsible for the Joint Program titled Modernising the Statistical Ecosystem in Trinidad and Tobago
  • Members of the Media
  • Members of the Public
  • Our community of data scientists, AI practitioners and Robotics developers
  • Dear colleagues
  • Ladies and Gentlemen


Good morning to you all. It is a pleasure to be here this morning to share ideas and learn with you, as we look at artificial intelligence, big data, and the future smart society. I congratulate the United Nations system in Trinidad and Tobago for the continued success of the Big Data Forum, and I thank you all for the invitation to share some thoughts on this important concept, as we delve into the reality of advanced big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and planning for the future.


I begin by emphasising that everything we do is guided by the mantra we have adopted from the UN; that is, to ‘Leave No One Behind’. What this means is that the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, through our focus on data and innovation, is determined to follow up on the commitments we have made to citizens in our National Development Strategy, Vision 2030, via Theme One, Putting People First, Nurturing Our Greatest Asset; Theme Two, Delivering Good Governance and Service Excellence; and Theme Four, Building Globally Competitive Businesses; and through other policies and commitments, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to self-actualise and achieve their utmost potential. That is our goal: Creating the environment for prosperity.


Today’s topic, “Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and the future smart society – The Reality of Advanced Big Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Planning for the Future”, presents to us the key to creating this environment of prosperity. The integration of advanced big data analytics and artificial intelligence into our future planning is necessary for guaranteeing a continued thrust for more efficient and transparent government services, as well as obtaining solutions to localised problems; especially solutions in line with Trinidad and Tobago’s National Development Strategy and the global Sustainable Development Goals.


One pillar in this movement is influence on the economy at both macro and micro levels. There is no doubt that the advancement of a robust, dependable digital economy presents significant opportunities for both developing and developed countries. Digital advancements provide platforms to support and intensify new streams of innovative undertakings and have the potential to assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in addressing challenges associated with unemployment, whilst creating trading opportunities, stimulating green development, and increasing the overall standard of living for the citizens of the Caribbean region.


The prospects of increased economic activity and growth are highlighted in a 2021 report from the Inter-American Center of Tax Administrators, which estimated that revenues of the digital economy in Latin America and the Caribbean would grow twenty-eight percent (28%) annually from 2021, reaching a value of three hundred and fifty-nine point four billion US dollars (US$ 359.4 billion), equivalent to eight point one percent (8.1%) of regional GDP, compared to eleven point two percent (11.2%) of GDP for countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD.


What these estimates indicate, is that the digital economy has become increasingly important in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the region accounting for approximately three point four percent (3.4%) of global revenues from the digital economy in 2021. These figures point to the tremendous financial opportunities from digital pursuits, of which artificial intelligence is fast becoming a core pillar.


However, UNESCO, through its AI in the Caribbean initiative, laments that many Caribbean Small Island Developing States have not yet developed strategies and national policies to manage the impact of AI on their societies. So, how can we take advantage of any windfall associated with the digital economy and AI? Well, through the Caribbean AI Initiative, there are grounds for optimism around the development of regional and national AI strategies, as it aims to raise awareness, inform, engage in open discourse, and strengthen capacities, while producing and sharing knowledge, and gathering expertise from various stakeholders to identify the way forward.


  1. government of Trinidad and Tobago supports this initiative, because we believe that aided by artificial intelligence, our economies can benefit from reduced human error through AI-enabled models, which can also help to save time and other valuable resources, to support the acquisition of accurate and efficient results in the public and private sector. Regionally, artificial intelligence applications have value addressing sustainability challenges, promoting social good, enhancing health care, streamlining the logistics sector, assisting environmental management, supporting education and more.


While such economic efforts help with the attainment of SDG 8, ‘Decent work and economic growth’ and SDG 9, ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure’, AI can revolutionise governance, opportunities and the overall lives of our citizens, when seriously supported by complementary strategies and national policies.


According to the UN, Trinidad and Tobago is poised to capitalise on the benefits of the digital sector, owing to our widespread mobile phone usage. There were one point zero eight million (1.08 million) internet users in Trinidad and Tobago as of January 2020, with the number of internet users in Trinidad and Tobago increasing by zero point three percent (0.3%) between 2019 and 2020. Internet penetration in Trinidad and Tobago also stood at seventy-seven percent (77%) in January 2020. During this same period, mobile connections stood at one point eight nine million (1.89 million).


In essence, we have some of the key tools and basis for the establishment of a digital economy. The next step is taking the leap into a realm of creating indigenous content, products and services not only for our region, but for the rest of the world. In Trinidad and Tobago, we are already beginning to take that leap, with a partnership between the Government and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), for the Connected Arima smart city project, which is but the initial phase of a wider national digitalisation and digital transformation thrust.


Connected Arima is also where for the first time in Trinidad and Tobago, Wellbeing and Wellness meet Big Data, with the One Patient, One Record initiative at the Arima General Hospital. This initiative introduces electronic health records or EHRs to capture and consolidate all the data about each patient treated at the hospital – demographic information, medical history, medications, immunisation history, allergies, test results, appointments, progress notes and more, are all captured electronically, replacing hand-written files that can be bulky, misplaced, difficult to read and share, and uncomfortable to carry around. EHRs allow for analysis of patient records for data that can point to communal health trends, thereby informing structured responses in public health and public health education.


Connected Arima includes the provision of infrastructure such as high-speed WiFi access, smart poles with built-in sensors for atmospheric quality, noise, temperature, traffic and more. The data realised from these smart pole sensors have a multiplicity of applications, from security, to traffic management, to municipal authorities planning for and responding to situations in real time.


Obviously, investment in infrastructure has to be supported by planned maintenance and obsolescence cycles, which have to become recognised as recurring cost factors in both the public and private sectors. On a nation-wide scale, the implementation of smart-nation infrastructure portends a wealth of data for analysis and utility to provide numerous platforms and solutions for building prosperity in every facet of endeavour.


AI goes hand in hand with big data, because of its use of algorithms to extract relevant data for analysis from huge volumes at rapid rates. Data and analytics are already being used by businesses to predict what customers want.

In virtually every area of the economy, big data analysis offers valuable insights that can be applied to boost productivity. In tourism for example, descriptive analytics of real-time and historical customer data can help reduce costs and improve forecasting accuracy of hotel occupancy. In transportation, traffic grids, congestion, and commuter data can provide authorities with insights to designing solutions that improve traffic flow and reduce man hours lost to traffic, including identifying just by an analysis of patterns of mobile phones’ geographical positions, places where the road surface needs to be repaired.


Supply chains are managed more efficiently with big data analysis informing stocking and delivery decisions, such that merchandise is delivered in time for consumption, in sufficient quantities to accommodate demand, whilst simultaneously minimising wastage. Big data and AI also have a role to play in disaster preparedness, through the analysis of weather and atmospheric sensors, mobile phone data, and social media to predict phenomena such as flooding, model the potential impacts, and develop and implement evacuation plans ahead of events, thus saving lives and property.


We can assess our children’s performance in specific subject areas against world standards easily, and a future exists where we will be able to track trends and develop training solutions to match skills requirements for the jobs of the future, known and unknown.

This is the interesting element of the combination of big data and artificial intelligence. The discovery of the unknown, not just for the sake of knowing, but as I said earlier, to ensure that no one is left behind.


Big data applications are vital for local government reform and the work of our municipal authorities. Cities and regional governments can manage costs, optimize services, and intelligently manage infrastructure, while building performance management frameworks that deliver value to the denizens of our communities.


In the social services sector, governments can detect fraud and maximize revenue collection through optimized and cost-effective customer contact programmes with integrated predictive analytics in the tax and welfare sector. Through sophisticated algorithms, dubious transactions are immediately tracked, providing insights into citizens’ financial behaviour and mitigating financial fraud. In the vein of transparency, this can also alert to fraudulent transactions occurring within organisations. We can also improve welfare initiatives through sentiment analysis, where it is possible to track national sentiments and develop new services and initiatives according to citizens’ needs.


Big data and AI can assist with responses to national security threats, both internal and external, through a combination of visual and digital surveillance, and analysis of digital intelligence to deploy assets to deter criminal activity and activities by bad actors that can pose physical and or digital threats to our nation.


In the health sector, through historical data, along with current mobility patterns discerned from analysis of mobile telephone metadata, governments can understand a disease outbreak and take measures to control it, while being able to initiate targeted wellness programmes for specific groups in the country. This enhances preventive healthcare programmes, instituting a proactive approach to citizen health.


So, from the examples I have just outlined, big data analysis can give us insights that can and will have a positive impact on our national development agenda.


It goes without saying that government is giving attention to this as a matter of urgency, and, with equal attention to another priority issue: the safety of our citizens and their data.


Trinidad and Tobago’s Data Protection Act, which was partially proclaimed in 2011, is a critical part of modernising government services and improving the economy among other things through big data and AI. While we understand that data can be instrumental to growth and national development, we are also cognisant that there are negatives when data mishandled or not effectively managed. In March of this year, we put forth a successful motion requesting more time to ensure that the legislation related to data protection put the needs and safety of our citizens first. Since the Act was partially proclaimed over a decade ago, there was the need to ensure the development of a modern, up-to-date piece of legislation that caters to developments since, which again puts our citizens first.


Data protection is essential for economic development, because effective data protection laws and regulations advance citizens’ trust in digital tools and electronic systems through the integration of rights and protections against the misuse of their personal data. When considering this, we must require organisations to use data in fair, transparent, and accountable ways. This is fundamental for government’s drive towards effective data rights and protection for our citizens.


So, in our thrust to make big data and AI integration the standard for how we operate, we are ensuring that data laws and regulations must be well-designed, adapted to the national context, consider existing resource constraints, have the independence and teeth necessary, and must have mechanisms to be effectively and consistently enforced.


We all agree that artificial intelligence is no longer a staple of books by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and other famous sci-fi authors; nor is it only limited to the TV and movie screens, on shows such as Star Trek or 2001: A Space Odyssey. The future is now. Our future is now. The tools to enhance this future and provide opportunities are being built, growing, and evolving, even as we sit here today. There is nothing stopping us from being a part of the revolution. In fact, we must be part of it or risk being left behind. So, today’s forum is an opportune moment to reflect, dream, be inspired and figure out what we need to do to be a part of the big data and AI drive, to ensure the time that we have now is not only the best for us here today, but also provides platform from which our future generations can leap to success.


I thank you all for your time today, and I wish you all the best for the duration of the Big Data Forum.



Jiminez, J.P. & Podesta, A. Leveling the playing field in times of crisis: Indirect taxation on the digital economy in Latin America and its potential revenue. Inter-American Center of Tax Administrations (2021).,of%20GDP%20for%20OECD%20countries.


Trinidad and Tobago Digital Report:

Digital 2020: Trinidad and Tobago