Skip to Content

Blogs Blogs

Democratising Tech: Why is it an Aspiring Entrepreneur’s Dream Come True?

 

These days, the annual release of increasingly powerful computer upgrades hardly surprises us anymore. The recent wave of technological disruptions however is more than just a bump up in specifications. Instead, it gives everyone access to business tools that were available to only a small number of wealthy corporations just a few years back.

 

It is almost as if an invisible force has opened a jar with lots of bottled- up creativity that is bursting with all kinds of enterprises, startups, and freelance outfits. Now, with the lid off, the magical effect of technology is bringing down barriers of entry in almost every important business function – distribution, marketing and operations.

 

DISTRIBUTION OF WARES DIRECTLY AND GLOBALLY MADE EASY

Remember the early days when merely creating a decent webpage required advanced knowledge of HTML? Otherwise, the alternative of hiring someone to build it would mean a significant upfront investment. Today, you can simply build and launch a site for your latest business idea using Wordpress and other similar visual website builders, all within a day. Or, easier still, set up a business pro le on one of the major social media platforms. Crafting a compelling online storefront for prospective customers is now entirely accessible to anyone with the abundance of free or open-source solutions.

 

Regardless of whether you are looking to reach local, international or specific trade buyers, choices are many. For goods, merchants can reach local and international buyers through e-commerce platforms such as Carousell, Amazon and Shopify. Similarly, musicians can skip big labels and reach fans directly on Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Even traditional industries like dining are seeing the rise of online-only restaurants that operate exclusively through UberEats, GrabFood and other delivery services. Be it establishing an online presence or making business transactions, technology has put the tools within easy reach.

 

MARKETING YOUR BRAND WORLDWIDE AT AFFORDABLE COST

Those who still own a TV may have noticed that advertisements running during commercial breaks come mostly from large, well-known brands. This is because airtime on television remains incredibly expensive. Other traditional forms of marketing like buying print ads or classified announcements in magazines or newspapers are also beyond what most small businesses can typically afford. However, platforms such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others have changed the game entirely. Not only do they allow anyone to promote their work for literally a few dollars, businesses can also choose to target people most likely to be interested in what they have to offer – linking them directly to prospective customers.

 

This dramatic cost reduction is just one aspect of the democratisation of marketing that technology has brought. What’s perhaps more important is that these new platforms provide intuitive self-service interfaces that give everyone the ability to design, create and analyse their ads without a steep learning curve. Anyone can be Don Draper with a personal advertising agency right on their smartphones.

 

OPERATING YOUR BUSINESS EFFICIENTLY AND EFFECTIVELY WITH TECH

Then there’s the nitty-gritty of running the business. On one hand, office operations such as accounting, invoicing and inventory management may sound trivial; on the other – how many potential entrepreneurs were turned off by the prospect of having to deal with these labour-intensive, expensive and tedious tasks?

 

Technology comes to the rescue again, compressing an entire back of ce into a few phone apps such as QuickBooks, On Shelf and Wave. These software don’t just help to keep costs low and free up more time for creative work, but also facilitate new viable business models, including one- person enterprises. What better use of technology can there be than helping people do what they do best?

 

OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH ARE EVERYWHERE

As more incredible tools are delivered into our hands, there is every reason to look forward to even more opportunities in the future. As it is, we are seeing startups in Singapore offering 3D printing services today. Combined with increasingly lower prices and availability of intuitive modeling software, it is almost a certainty that on-demand manufacturing will bring back the maker in all of us – only now with the ability to earn a living.

 

Then there’s also Arti cial Intelligence (AI), which many people still associate with sci-  movies. In reality, powerful machine learning services from Google, Amazon and IBM are already readily accessible through the cloud – even on the cheapest laptop. And as with all things tech, access to AI will only become more affordable and more user-friendly for creators in the not so far future.

 

Yet, while we are truly at the very start of democratisation of tech and every industry – we should explore these new possibilities with a caveat. Even though some processes have been made simpler, certain elements like expertise and hard work stay unchanged and crucial. The fact remains that anyone can use the technology, but not everyone will be able to use it well. However, for those who have great ideas and skills to support it, the world is their market.

Ethics and AI: Teaching Our Machines to Tell Right from Wrong

From recommending products on Taobao.com to assessing an individual’s credit worthiness based on their behaviour on social media app WeChat, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming an integral part of daily lives for millions of people. As a result of its rapid development and growing significance, ethical issues in AI have become a point of public debate and discussion.

 

In particular, a number of recent accidents related to autonomous vehicles has brought the topic to the forefront of public attention. In addition, the recent large-scale study conducted by the MIT Moral Machine project1 further reveals the ethical dilemmas facing autonomous vehicle designers, passengers, and other road users and the complexity involved in getting a society to agree on the ethics governing AI applications. These developments suggest that there is a need for a social contract between AI and society.

 

Step 01 Figuringout What is Right

As of now, the AI research community has agreed on some desirable qualities of an ethical AI system. These include guidelines such as: AI applications should respect and protect user privacy; decisions made by AI should be fair, unbiased and explainable to human beings; and for the purpose of accountability, responsibility attribution should be possible if something goes wrong. Various groups are also researching ethical dilemmas, individual and collective ethical AI decision- making, and ethical human-AI interactions2. However, while pockets of advances have been made, few of them have reached the stage where research outcomes can be deployed in real-world AI applications.

 

Notably, acknowledgement of the importance of incorporating ethics into AI has also led to the engagement of the AI research and engineering community in a number of global initiatives. One such initiative is the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, established by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Since its inception, the Initiative has produced the Ethically Aligned Design (EAD) report which outlines principles, guidelines and best practices for developing and governing future AI empowered systems.

 

Step 02 GettingBuy-into Best Practices

The Association for the Advancement of Arti cial Intelligence (AAAI) has also teamed up with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in 2018 to organise the AAAI/ACM Conference on Arti cial Intelligence, Ethics, and Society (AIES)3. The Conference provides a platform for AI researchers and social scientists to come together and work out interdisciplinary solutions to ethical challenges in AI applications.

 

Step 03 TakingPositive (Not Limiting) Actions

However, without waiting for ethical AI technologies to be ready, the legislative landscape has already evolved. In 2016, the European Union (EU) established one of the most stringent privacy protection laws targeting AI applications with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR speci es many terms aimed at protecting user privacy and prohibiting organisations from exchanging data without explicit user approval. Similar laws have also since emerged in China and the US. These harsh legal environments threaten to impede AI development by making it infeasible for different companies who own diverse types of user data to collaborate and build new business.

 

Fortunately, the AI research community has an appropriate response to the imposed legal challenges. Through introducing a new paradigm of machine learning – federated learning, different data owners can continue to collaborate and collectively train a model by storing data locally and observing secure protocols such as homogeneous encryption, differential privacy, and secret sharing to prevent user privacy breach4.

 

Step 04 Empowering Continuous Improvement

One of the proponents for federated learning is the Federated AI Ecosystem (FedAI)5 led by Professor Qiang Yang, Chief AI Officer (CAIO) of WeBank. Besides providing a global open platform for research, development, and deployment of federated learning technologies in areas with strong data privacy concerns such as banking and healthcare, FedAI is also dedicated to fostering an inclusive environment for open source development by making available source code for the building blocks of federated learning – the Federated AI Technology Enabler (FATE) – as well as tutorial materials which enable AI researchers and engineers to create more complex and capable privacy preserving machine learning technologies compliant with stricter laws governing AI.

 

Indeed, this approach has the potential to enable AI to continue its strong development trajectory forward even as the legal environment becomes tougher. The future of AI looks bright and it is an exciting time to work in this domain. But much of the road ahead tests our resolve to not only make AI a fair tool, but also a sustainable systemic technology that brings about a more just society for all.

 

1 MIT Moral Machine project http://moralmachine.mit.edu/

2 H. Yu, Z. Shen, C. Miao, C. Leung, V. R. Lesser & Q. Yang, “Building Ethics into Arti cial Intelligence,” in Proceedings of the 27th International Joint Conference on Arti cial Intelligence (IJCAI’18), pp. 5527–5533, 2018.

3  AAAI/ACM Conference on Arti cial Intelligence, Ethics, and Society (AIES) http://www.aies-conference.com/

4  Q. Yang, Y. Liu, T. Chen & Y. Tong, “Federated Learning: Concepts and Applications,” ACM Transactions on Intelligent Systems and Technology (TIST), vol. 10, no. 2, pp.12:1–12:19, 2019.

5  Federated AI Ecosystem (FedAI) https://www.fedai.org/

Perception versus Reality: What’s it Really Like Working in Tech?

 

Are tech careers as exciting, inspiring and fulfilling as projected in the media? Or boring, stressful – soul-destroying – as anonymous keyboard warriors in online forums vent? Such conflicting messages are confusing. So for the aspiring tech professionals who are wondering what it’s really like to work in tech, this article is dedicated to you!

 

Cut to the chase – my personal take is that tech probably offers one of the most interesting, exhilarating, satisfying (and potentially well paying!) careers. There are few other jobs in the world where creativity and teamwork are used as much to build solutions that change the way we work, live and play – and potentially the world.

 

The Tech Industry,

The Tech Professional

 

One of the biggest misperceptions about working in tech is that when one works in a tech role, one is automatically working in the “tech industry”. This is actually incorrect because “industry” is used to refer to companies and organisations. Some examples, banks and insurance companies are part of the  finannancial services industry; airlines and taxi companies are part of the transportation industry. Hence, by that definition, the ones that make up the tech industry are actually hardware, software and IT services companies.

 

That means – you can be a tech person but not work in the tech industry. Truth is, there are many more tech jobs in non-tech industries – like a Data Scientist in a bank, or a Supply Chain Analyst in an oil and gas company. Suddenly, possibilities of building a tech career become endless – you can practically work in any industry.

 

So if your goal is to become a tech professional, start with focusing on the role and function you wish to specialise in. Choices are aplenty: developer, architect, business analyst, project manager, test professional, system administrator...and – not forgetting – cybersecurity expert, an increasingly popular option. Then pick an industry that provides you a runway to grow and where you envision you can work in for a long time to develop your expertise. That’s how you build deep skills and experience to grow your career over time.

 

Note of caution though, do continue to keep an open mind, stay connected and be ready to embrace change. After all, we are living in exciting times – everything is becoming “digitalised”, and the lines between industries are blurring. So be prepared for the traditional definition of industries to be challenged continuously – is Grab a taxi company, RedMart a supermarket, PropertyGuru a real estate company or are they all software companies that turn traditional industries upside down?

 

 

Flying Solo,

Flying in Formation

 

It is not uncommon for the media to portray programmers as lone wolves (usually male) who hide in their favourite corner of the house, code non-stop for x hours, and then emerge with a program that changes the world.

 

This cannot be further from the real world. Tech work is really more like playing team sports. Everyone plays to their best in the respective functions, but the game can only be won when everyone works seamlessly as a team. Today’s business and IT operating environments are pretty much like the fields and the courts (with aircon of course!). Not only are ideas and plans brainstormed and discussed, bugs are also tackled – as a team.

 

That’s why before you attempt any bitwise operation in your code to achieve that most efficient mathematical operation – learn to be a good team player first.

 

 

Working with People, Working with Machines

If you think working in tech is to work (almost) exclusively with machines, then you are sorely mistaken. Yes, there’ll still be a lot of “face time” with machines: translating requirements into code, analysing data produced, optimising response time, replicating errors reported by users to  x that elusive bug. Or in the case of administrators, to monitor the machine making sure it’s operating optimally, and with no unwanted guests in the system.

 

But solutions and systems these days are usually complex and revolve around solving problems for people. Therefore, whether it’s to find a completely new way of doing something or streamlining an existing process – it takes working with people and users to understand the problem before putting code together to  x it. There’s no shortcut – expect to be working with people and machines, all in a day’s work.

 

Take heart. No matter you’re more of a people person or a machine person – there’s always a place for you in tech. With its increasing adoption by organisations to leapfrog competition strategically (or to provide that new innovative service), the scope is wide as long as you are methodical and logical. Because with machines, “1” is always “one” and “0”, always “zero” – so bugs in the system are almost certainly caused by a human, and not the machine.

 

Welcome to the Brave New World of Computing!

The Reality of Artificial Intelligence: Expectations Meet Possibilities

 

The topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) almost always comes up when we talk about the future of technology. And the common thread is that AI will change the way we work, live and play. We cannot help but wonder what is the impact of its rise to a technology market leader like Huawei and their strategy for seizing the opportunities AI brings. The IT Society speaks to Huawei International’s Chief Executive Officer Nicholas Ma to find out.

 

Q: Question, NM: Nicholas Ma

 

Q: Most people know Huawei for its cutting-edge smartphones, but that is just one part of Huawei’s business. Can you give us an overview of Huawei?

NM: Aside from smart devices such as smartphones, tablets and wearables that consumers know us for, Huawei also provides enterprise products, solutions and services for businesses and governments across four key domains – telecom networks, IT, smart devices, and cloud services and intelligent computing.

 

Q: How important is AI technology to Huawei on a strategic level?

NM: At Huawei, we see great potential in AI and have mapped out an ambitious strategy for the next few years. We have not only identified broad areas where we see we can grow in, but also put in place specific plans that build upon our existing capabilities to do more. The establishment of the Intelligent Computing Business Unit to develop AI infrastructure products is one of them. We recognise that much of the focus today is on connecting things like smart homes, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things (IoT). And central to the growth of these technologies is the availability of large amounts of quality data and machine learning. Besides new technologies, AI also has the power to transform traditional communication systems, making them more agile and intelligent. One example is cloud computing. With the augmentation of AI, cloud can go beyond being a technology that mainly provides data storage to providing data analytics.

 

Of course, some of these AI enabled technologies are still in the early growth stage. But the promise is there for them to mature and bring about great benefits for people and businesses. Naturally, Huawei prioritises our investment in proprietary AI technology development.

 

Q: What are some AI innovations that the newly established Intelligent Computing Business Unit is working on at the moment?

NM: Actually, Huawei Intelligent Computing Business Unit is not new, it is an evolution from Huawei Server Product Line which had been doing development for over 16 years now. But with the new branding, we are looking to bring about pervasive intelligent computing with innovation in chip algorithms and architectures.

 

For example, the Ascend310 AI chip we released at HUAWEI CONNECT 2018 can recognise more than 200 faces in a single frame picture as compared to a maximum of 30 faces in a common processor. With a performance that is seven times better, its power consumption is no more than eight watts. Similarly, our Ascend chip-based Atlas intelligent computing platform builds upon Huawei’s Ascend series AI processors and mainstream heterogeneous computing components in the industry to provide AI infrastructure solutions that can be widely used in smart city, smart transportation, smart healthcare, and other AI inference. We are hopeful that through our continuous innovations, our customers will have access to powerful computing – paving the way to the future of AI.

Q: How does Singapore fit in with Huawei’s AI strategy?

NM: Huawei has been in Singapore for over 18 years now and is definitely our most important hub for the Asia- Pacific region, outside China. The importance of Singapore to Huawei is further fuelled by the synergy between our increasing focus on AI and Singapore’s vibrant AI research and development landscape. The launch of our new regional office in Singapore on 20 February 2019 reflects our confidence and hope for the country and the region.

 

In tandem with our plans to build Huawei’s AI capabilities in Singapore, we are actively collaborating with industry partners to develop and deep- dive into end-to-end solutions. After all, for AI to truly deliver on everyone’s expectations and for adoption to take place, having a comprehensive ecosystem is important. Therefore, it is not enough for Huawei to provide AI enabled infrastructure; we also need partners who share the same vision to leverage the platform and develop compatible applications. Towards this aim, we are launching our AI enabled cloud in April this year to give local startups a platform to develop on.

 

Q: How else does a presence in Singapore help with Huawei’s AI strategy?

NM: Singapore presents a very unique environment for Huawei. It is one of the most open economies globally which enables us to reach out to diverse demographics of people and industries in the region – and even globally – with our solutions.

 

For us to realise our AI aspirations, we need trained talents who are passionate about AI research and development to join us in pushing the cause forward. And organisations like the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Economic Development Board (EDB) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have been very supportive in this aspect. We are eager to enlarge the coverage of cooperation with other universities, polytechnics and industrial players. Together with some of these universities and polytechnics, we have launched the Seeds for the Future programme, which targets to cultivate Singaporean undergraduates into future AI talents.

 

Q: What are your hopes for the tech industry?

NM: Over the course of my work, I’ve travelled to more than 50 countries for different projects. And till today, it is still very heartening to see how much the locals appreciate the work we do for them. They reaffirm the value of our work and, more importantly, show us how our services have the ability to change lives and make the world a better place. It is a humbling experience and a strong reminder that – as a big technology company, Huawei can play a part to help solve some of the most complex problems in the world today.

 

3D Printing: Hype or World- transforming Technology?

Although the technology of 3D printing has been around for over 30 years, its development in recent years has drawn much attention from both manufacturers and consumers. Today, supporters of 3D printing believe that it has the potential to revolutionise the way we do everything – from healthcare to logistics to manufacturing. Does the global leader in 3D printing – HP – see these same opportunities? The IT Society speaks to HP Inc’s Koh Kong Meng to get an insider’s perspective.

 

Q: Question, KM: Kong Meng

 

Q: Is 3D printing a hype?

KM: There have always been many in ated claims about what new technology can do, but if you take a longer view of it, you will realise that most of them have been ful lled over time. Take the dot-com boom in the 2000s. It went bust because of unful lled expectations about the Internet, but those expectations have since been met and even surpassed. With 3D printing, the same concept applies. It’s all about giving time for the expectations around 3D printing to bear fruit.

 

Q: Where do we stand in terms of 3D printing technology now?

KM: Good progress has been made in the recent years where 3D printing is concerned. However, there are still important challenges which need addressing before 3D printing can truly realise its full potential. One of it is the speed of production. Currently, 3D printing is mainly used for low volume, high-end products such as prototyping, or parts for the aerospace industry because 3D printers today are not able to produce high quality end-user parts at an acceptable speed. HP is addressing this today with 3D printers that print up to 10 times faster than the industry average at half the cost. We’re also looking into ways to improve the speed of printing in the future.

 

Another aspect is the usable material for printing. The range of materials compatible with 3D printers at the moment is relatively limited. But that is changing. For example, at HP, we are exploring the possible use of metals and other materials through our HP Multi Jet Fusion Open Platform. The platform aims to foster widespread adoption of 3D printing by expanding the availability of new materials to address a broader set of applications, lowering material costs, and creating new possibilities for part properties that address speci c industry needs.

 

Q: Given these challenges, why is everyone still so excited about 3D printing?

KM: Primarily because once these challenges are resolved, 3D printing has the potential to drive down costs and increase usability in ways unimaginable with traditional modes of manufacturing. Compared to traditional manufacturing that uses a reductive process, 3D printing employs an additive process which allows for low volume customisation and production without compromising on tensile strength. In addition, 3D printing has the advantage of being able to print complex designs with minimum wastage.

 

And that is not all – 3D printing has the power to change global consumption. With traditional manufacturing, products are typically mass-produced for the sake of achieving economies of scale and then subsequently shipped to the place of sale. With 3D printing, products can be produced close to site of purchase or consumption as long as the design is available. Products can also be customised to t individual needs and taste. For instance, spectacle frames can be customised to suit personal face shapes and sizes.

 

On a macro level, 3D printing has the ability to transform the way businesses are conducted. Instead of building big production plants at low-cost sites and shipping goods around the world to different markets, 3D printing enables businesses to produce on demand close to markets where the products are consumed. Logistics become simpli ed, wastage is minimised and carbon footprint is reduced with manufacturing taking place closer to the source of consumption. In a nutshell, 3D printing makes for a more sustainable world.

 

Q: Besides hardware, what could impede the advance of 3D printing?

KM: The difference between 3D printing and traditional manufacturing processes means that workers will need to adopt very different mindsets and learn new skills. In some cases, I think there is even a need to unlearn the current way of doing things in order to take full advantage of what 3D printing can offer. But HP is already working on that. Our recent partnership with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) saw the launch of the HP-NTU Digital Manufacturing Corporate Lab, which aims to train the next generation of engineers and designers.

 

Q: What keeps your passion burning for the tech industry after all the years?

KM: The tech industry is unique in that change is actively sought after. For example in the case of HP, we are driven by our guiding principle – innovation that matters – to constantly push for ways to improve our products by leveraging emerging technologies such as arti cial intelligence, social media, augmented reality, virtual reality, etc.

 

On top of that, we also proactively focus our product innovations to answer the question: “how do our products ful l human needs”. By doing so, our purpose is strengthened and we are able to look beyond what we are currently doing to think of how we can do things differently to improve lives. With the amount of changes happening around us today at a high speed, such opportunities are everywhere, and they are exciting.