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With artificial intelligence (AI) radically changing the face of business today, the debates around how businesses can successfully ride the waves of technological disruption are taking place with increasing frequency.

Within this context, Singapore Management University’s School of Computing and Information Systems (SCIS), in partnership with AI Singapore hosted its inaugural conference, ‘Artificial Intelligence—Are You Ready?’ on 6 April at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium. Bringing together policymakers, academics and leading industry experts from organisations such as Accenture, Facebook and Grab, which had implemented AI technologies and solutions into their businesses, the conference addressed the ways in which individuals and organisations can readily harness the fourth industrial revolution to achieve tangible business outcomes and benefits.

In her welcome address, SMU Provost Prof Lily Kong warmly welcomed participants. She highlighted how the roots of AI research in SMU started many years ago in its various labs: its Living Analytics Research Center (LARC), LiveLabs Urban Lifestyle Innovation Platform and Fujitsu-SMU Urban Computing and Engineering Corporate Lab (UniCEN). Within these labs, AI applied research efforts had resulted in practical outcomes which added value to businesses and society.

Commenting on how Singapore’s transformation towards a knowledge-based economy was creating a high demand for talent with the ability to apply and master AI technologies to address business needs, Prof Kong announced the official launch of an Artificial Intelligence track at the postgraduate level, within SMU’s Master of IT in Business (MITB) programme.

Developed in consultation with more than 20 industry leaders, the newly created MITB AI Track provides an integrated approach of melding AI methodologies into business domains. In line with SMU’s transformative education approach and with the changing industry demands, SMU created the AI track to cultivate the next generation of talent, who will be as equally adept at people management, as they are with building tools for technical applications and applying algorithms.

In his opening address, Guest of Honour Mr Tan Kok Yam, Deputy Secretary, Smart Nation & Digital Government, Prime Minister’s Office, commented that “AI will not replace jobs, but tasks.” Enabled by vast data and enhanced computational power, AI is now capable of enabling users to do much more than before. “Now I am able to push the technology into real life and deal with messy environments. The potential to create value is tremendous, (as AI) allows for a lot of innovation,” said Mr Tan.

Drawing the connection to Singapore’s Smart Nation efforts, Mr Tan said that a fundamental aim of Smart Nation was to harness technology to improve lives in concrete ways. While AI has shown its value in the controlled environments of factory floors and hospitals, the use of technology should be extended and scaled up, beyond such controlled domains. Mr Tan shared his view on the endless possibilities: “Think of all the things that I can get machine learning and AI software to do – detecting anomalies in fraud or cybersecurity, assisting the domains of transport or urban planning. There are tons of applications for the government to provide services in a citizen-centric manner.”

Peppering his address with humorous anecdotes, Mr Tan outlined the key conditions for the effective application of AI – compelling use cases, available data and relevant capabilities and skills – to navigate the daily complexities faced by individuals. Mr Tan urged the audience to think from the perspective of potential use cases and problem statements, to rationalise how AI could be harnessed to address pain points and solve real-life issues.

To groom AI talents for the industry, Mr Tan called for close collaboration between industry, universities, government agencies and institutions to build skills and capabilities in AI and data science. Doing so would enable the translation of data science into pragmatic solutions.

In his keynote speech, Mr Laurence Liew, Director of AI Industry Innovation, from AI Singapore spoke on the ways to enable Singapore for the AI wave, and on programmes which help accelerate the adoption of AI by companies in Singapore.

Inspired by his personal motivation of using neural networks to predict the stock market, Mr Liew made his first foray into AI decades ago. He elaborated on AI Singapore’s mission to anchor deep national capabilities in artificial intelligence, making it a key pillar in support of Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative so as to engender substantial social and economic impacts.

In collaboration with universities, AI Singapore has embarked on a number of projects which involved the implementation of AI technologies and solutions to address practical challenges. The projects range from methods to encourage people to date and eventually get married; usage of video analytics to determine a candidate’s progression in the job interview process as well as applications for voice-to-text conversion for use by consumers.

In regards to the topic of talent, Mr Liew identified data programming, application development and math/statistics as key skills required of an AI engineer. “An AI engineer needs to be able to make sense of data in order to build applications and systems,” he commented.

Mr Liew’s address was followed by insightful presentations by industry experts from Accenture, Facebook and Grab, who presented case studies of AI in action and its impact to businesses in terms of productivity, performance and customer satisfaction.

According to Mr Joon-Seong Lee, “Chief AI Geek” and Managing Director at Accenture Applied Intelligence, ASEAN Lead, “52% of Fortune 500 companies that have gone out of business since 2000 did so because of digital disruption.”

He continued, “We are witnessing an unprecedented period of technological innovation. Time is of essence; never before has the speed of tech innovation been so rapid. There is a need to embrace and deploy technology quickly in order not to become one of the 52%.” Elaborating on Accenture’s research on a nation’s ability to embrace AI, Mr Lee underscored findings showing that Singapore had an opportunity to double its growth rate with AI by 2025. The use of AI could also markedly increase industry share of profit, unlock trapped value and create new value.

In his speech, Mr Srikiran Raghavan, Head of APAC, Marketing Partners Program, Facebook shared insights on the impact of AI on modern marketing. Highlighting the key challenges faced by marketers today, he emphasised that it was key to take advantage of data in real-time, conduct data processing efficiently to distil data insights and to translate them into business action.

This could only be mobilised by the right talent and culture within an organisation. According to him, “Technology cannot change anything unless you have the support of the people behind you, 100%.”

Rounding up the presentations by industry veterans, Dr Jagannadan Varadarajan, Data Science Lead (Machine Learning), Grab gave his views on the ways in which to leverage machine learning and AI for better ride-hailing experiences across Southeast Asia. He started with the very motivations that had first inspired Grab: safety concerns for women, supply and demand mismatch and drivers not earning enough income.

Today, as a leading ride-hailing platform in Southeast Asia with a fleet of over 2.3 million drivers, Dr Varadarajan elaborated on how Grab is known for using data and technology to improve performance and productivity.

Dr Varadarajan also shared on how Grab was leveraging the recent trends in big-data, machine learning and AI to better predict bidding to match passenger and driver better, better understand driver preferences, and better understand passenger preferences and improve customer experience.

To prepare more individuals for the growing influence of AI in the workplace and across society, Prof Dai Bing Tian elaborated on the four factors of software, hardware, application and data that one could focus on. Integrating all these four factors is the human element which is the most important. In recent years, with artificial intelligence and automated analytics reshaping business models and strategies, the demand for talent with skills such as data science and machine learning, AI planning and automation, and research translation and application are growing exponentially.

Prof Dai highlighted that the new AI Track introduced this year in SMU’s Master of IT in Business (MITB) programme is the first-of-its-kind in Southeast Asia and a direct response to these growing trends.

The MITB is well recognised as a programme that trains students to analyse data with a deep understanding of business problems, and to integrate solutions into business processes. In addition to this, the practice of “Learn to Learn” is woven into the course content, where students are required to be quick in picking up new technologies, discover problems and ask the right questions.

Speaking briefly on the technology skills trained from the curriculum, Prof Dai shared that the new AI track programme emphasises on both machine learning and decision analytics, which allow students to build their AI applications and solutions in the business domains they are interested. In addition to machine learning and decision analytics, students will also learn about research translation and application skill, to enable them to apply cutting edge researches in their AI solutions.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion with Mr Liew, Mr Lee, Mr Raghavan and Dr Varadarajan. Moderated by SMU Vice Provost (Research), Professor Steven Miller, the panel discussed the integration of AI applications with business strategy and talent management.

Featured photo: (from left) Mr Joon-Seong Lee, Managing Director at Accenture Applied Intelligence, ASEAN Lead; Mr Laurence Liew, Director of AI Industry Innovation, AI Singapore; Professor Steven Miller, SMU Vice Provost (Research); Dr Jagannadan Varadarajan, Data Science Lead (Machine Learning), Grab and Mr Srikiran Raghavan, Head of APAC, Marketing Partners Program, Facebook at the Artificial Intelligence—Are You Ready? conference organised by SMU on 6 April 2018.

Last updated on 15 Jan 2021 .