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Shaping an AI-Powered Nation


Artificial intelligence (AI) is a thing of the now, and the rate of change and developments in the domain reafirms that. An active advocate of AI development in Singapore, Koo Sengmeng, Deputy Director of Strategic Alliances, AI Singapore, sheds light on how beyond changing the way we live, work and play; AI has the potential to propel the continued growth of our economy.


Q: Question, SM: Sengmeng


Q: Did AI only come about in the recent years?

SM: Certainly not. If you think about the recommendation engines from the likes of Amazon, Google and Baidu? Or your email spam detector? And more recently, phone personal assistants like Siri and Google Now. Many of them have been around for a while now – and even become features that we rely on. 


Q: Then why is there increasing interest in AI in the recent years? 

SM: I always like to refer to my personal view of the “holy trinity” – Compute, Algorithm and Data. Affordable computing power such as Graphic Processing Unit (GPU), coupled with the development of cloud-based machine learning platforms by major tech companies – Alibaba Cloud Aliyun, Microsoft Azure Machine Learning Studio and Google Cloud – means that individuals and businesses can easily host and run Al projects that use machine learning techniques. Concurrently, frameworks and tools such as Caffe and Tensor ow help accelerate the development of AI applications while software such as NVIDIA DIGITS help jump-start beginners who are keen to explore this domain. 


But of course, AI will not be able to take off successfully without data. Data is necessary to fuel the advancement of the AI engine. Thanks to the proliferation of smart phones and smart devices, huge amounts of data spanning different facets of our global digital economy is being created at an unprecedented speed. The synchronic growth of these three aspects have not only empowered AI applications to be developed at an accelerated rate to bene t people, but also drew much interest among developers to explore the potential of AI. 


Q:  What do you see to be the future of AI?

SM: AI has the potential to change our lives for the better in many ways. The three areas that I am most keen to see its impact in are healthcare, nance and smart cities. Healthcare is a big topic for many developed countries confronting ageing population. Healthcare costs continue to increase on the back of deteriorating experiences as healthcare systems get stressed by growing demand. With AI, there is the possibility of automating parts of routine health checks to cut down waiting time without compromising on results accuracy. More signi cantly, the reduced workload enables clinicians, nurses and allied health professionals to provide better care for patients.


In this region, there is a substantial population that cannot access traditional nancial services and unable to tap into the global digital economy. AI innovations in facial recognition and data analytics can enable new forms of banking services to allow nancial inclusion for these unbanked segment. For example, a micro- nancier can assess a person’s creditworthiness through his/her social media presence, and approve loans even if the person doesn’t have a bank account.  


With many governments looking to build smart cities, AI is set to play a very integral part in helping governments govern better through enabling them to better anticipate needs of citizens and provide relevant public services in a timely manner.  


On a personal level, I am also looking forward to the creation of Personal AI, sort of my “Intelligent Other Self”. With the development of Intelligence Augmentation (IA), I hope to see AI working alongside us in a symbiotic manner.  


Q: Do you think AI replacing human jobs is a very real concern? Why?
SM: There is no doubt that AI has the ability to automate certain job functions performed by humans today. I am of the opinion that AI helps to eliminate the Dull, the Dirty and the Dangerous. For countries like Singapore, we are perennially facing labour shortage. AI actually helps rms here to be more effcient in resourcing our manpower as well as stay operationally pro table. Meanwhile, from the perspective of individual workers, they also get opportunities to take on more mentally satisfying roles and not mindless repetitive tasks. 


Having said that, all known forms of AI today are only good at carrying out one or two speci c tasks. Technically, we call this Arti cial Narrow Intelligence, or ANI for short. Therefore, it is an inaccurate claim to say that AI can replace humans. Instead, it will be more accurate to state that AI is adopted to replace the repetitive tasks that were previously performed by humans. Taking this into context, stronger AI would mean better tools for humans. And it is up to us to determine how AI can help us and augment our abilities. 


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