The innovfest unbound conference showcased what it would take to create a vibrant digital economy.
By Janice Lin
Singapore as the next global hub for artificial intelligence (AI)? A set of new initiatives could help shape the nation to become one.
Unveiled at innovfest unbound – the technology festival that is the pillar event of this year’s Smart Nation Innovations Week – the initiatives are aimed at helping relevant stakeholders better understand the challenges posed by the use of AI, creating a regulatory environment that fosters the growth and use of AI and increasing awareness of the benefits the technology can bring about.
The first is the setting up of an advisory council to advise the government on the ethical use of AI and data. Among the objectives on this council’s agenda is assisting the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) in the engagement of stakeholders – such as the ethics boards of commercial enterprises – on ethical issues arising from the use of AI and data. It will also develop ethics standards and governance frameworks, as well as produce advisory guidelines and codes of practice for adoption by the industry.
“Innovative technologies bring economic and societal benefits, as well as attendant ethical issues. Thus, good regulation is needed to enable innovation by building public trust,” said Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran.
The council will be chaired by former Attorney-General VK Rajah and will consist of thought leaders in AI and big data from local and international companies, as well as advocates for consumer interest.
Also in the works is a discussion paper to be released by the Personal Data Protection Commission on the responsible development and adoption of AI technology. This paper will be used to guide the advisory council in its work.
Finally, the Singapore Management University (SMU) will launch a research programme on the governance of AI and the use of data. Through this five-year programme, SMU will organise forums with stakeholders to discuss and bring clarity to policy and regulatory issues regarding AI, as well as support the work of the advisory council. The hope is to generate a healthy discussion between academia and industry, and enable Singapore to drive thought leadership on these issues.
These initiatives are part of the government’s efforts to take the lead in collaborating with industries and enterprises to leverage on AI and other new frontier technologies to explore new growth areas.
“AI’s immense potential … is well-recognised and that is why we have launched industry programmes to support the development and adoption of AI solutions,” said Mr Iswaran. “It is a journey that private enterprises and consumers must walk together with the government.”
Fostering Southeast Asian innovation
Organised by unbound and NUS Enterprise, in partnership with IMDA, at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre on 5 and 6 June 2018, the fourth edition of innovfest unbound brought together more than 13,000 entrepreneurs, companies and investors from around the world to showcase some of Asia’s most innovative developments and discuss the disruptive technologies that are shaping the world today.
Among the issues discussed by speakers at the talks during the morning session on day one of the event was the need for Southeast Asian innovation to come into its own.
While acknowledging the successes of start-ups like Grab and GO-JEK, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes stressed the road ahead for Southeast Asian companies is still long. “There's so much talent (and) so much potential here. We have 700 million people – that is a huge market. The quicker Southeast Asia comes together, the better it will be for us, otherwise we're going to be marginalised by China and India.”
Doing its part to stoke innovation in this region is Grab, which launched its venture arm, Grab Ventures, at the event.
Speaking about the company’s success, CEO Anthony Tan said Grab had been very blessed to get the guidance and mentorship it needed from other companies in its early days.
Grab Ventures is thus the ride-hailing company’s move to “pay it forward”, by allowing growth-stage companies to tap its expertise, resources and networks. The aim is to not only help start-ups scale across the region, but also groom the next generation of Southeast Asian tech leaders.
“We believe … that we can transform Southeast Asia together,” said Mr Tan. “We can show to the world that Southeast Asian companies can rise above their global peers (and) solve real-world problems like poverty, hunger and environmental issues – real-world problems solved by Southeast Asians for Southeast Asians.”
Frontier technologies for the world
innovfest unbound provided a platform for local and regional companies – over 400 exhibitors in all – to showcase their innovations to the world. The list includes fintech firm Jing King Tech Group, whose virtual teller machines (VTMs) help automate the client onboarding process for banks, using a combination of facial recognition technology, finger-vein authentication, high-definition face-to-face video communication and video surveillance to identify and verify new customers.
The VTM is essentially the bank’s “front end”, where potential clients go to open a bank account. It connects the client with the bank at the back end, whose systems and database will run their know-your-customer and anti-money laundering checks before onboarding the customer. The idea is that anyone who wants to open an account should be able to do so within a matter of minutes, without having to wait in line at the bank.
“A lot of people today don't like going down to bank branches anymore. With our VTM, they can open an account or access banking services at their own convenience,” said Mr Ronald Vong, regional sales manager at Jing King’s digital payment and identity department.
Jing King’s VTMs are currently in use by a number of banks in China, and have even helped bring financial services to the unbanked living in some rural villages in the country. Its next step: To grow its footprint in the rest of Southeast Asia, including in its home base Singapore.
Meanwhile, virtual reality (VR) company SideFX’s technology has helped expand the reach of artwork created by students at Zhonghua Secondary School, by bringing their creations to the region, China and Taiwan via VR headsets.
“We feel it's a waste of our young talent to not have a platform for them to showcase their work to the world, and our technology enables this,” said Mr TK Ng, Asia-Pacific president at SideFX.
Beyond putting local students on the global stage, SideFX is also engaged in experiential learning. Its headsets will soon be used in a two-year trial with Tan Tock Seng Hospital in the latter half of 2018, helping junior doctors train in conducting operating procedures.
“Training is becoming more and more experiential. It’s no longer just learning from books … We want our platform to enable virtual and augmented learning experiences where students can learn from anywhere, at anytime,” said Mr Ng.
Like Jing King Tech, expansion is also on the cards for SideFX.
“Our plan next is to go global, to tap into the world's talent. Singapore needs to connect to the rest of the world to grow as a whole together. We hope our technology can help build experiences and expertise, and spread knowledge around the world.”