Engineering a Smart Nation

04 October 2017 | General News
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From left: Assoc Prof Chitre, Prof Ho, Mr Konno and Prof Thean at the question and answer session

With the emergence of digital technologies like data science and robotics, possibilities in the way we live, work and play have expanded exponentially. The latest “NUS Greater Good Series” on 3 October, co-organised by the NUS Development Office and NUS Engineering, explored the challenges and opportunities in Singapore’s move towards becoming a Smart Nation, as well as NUS’ research efforts in tandem with this nationwide push. Titled “Smart Engineering: Smart City. Internet of Things. Manufacturing”, the event featured speakers such as NUS Deputy President (Research & Technology) Professor Ho Teck Hua and NUS Engineering Professor Aaron Thean.

Prof Ho began by sharing what he calls “Ho’s Happiness Equation”, looking at three specific areas that he believes are essential to human living, namely love, career and health. Peppering his talk with analogies and real-world examples, he described how functions such as customisation and widening of the search field that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data science provide can help us achieve these goals more efficiently.

As Singapore accelerates its push to becoming a Smart Nation, Prof Ho also pointed out three possible obstacles ahead — challenges in obtaining data, assigning liability when mistakes are made, and the division of labour between man and machine.

Prof Ho currently leads the University’s Smart Nation Research Cluster, which was established in 2016 to bring together researchers across multidisciplinary backgrounds from engineering, mathematics, medicine, computing and the social sciences to create powerful solutions for our society and contribute to Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative. He is also lending his leadership to two Smart Nation initiatives launched by the National Research Foundation, serving as Executive Chairman of AI.SG, and Chairman of the Singapore Data Science Consortium.

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Prof Ho gave the audience an insight into the benefits and obstacles in building a Smart Nation

Prof Thean, an engineer and prolific inventor with 50 patents, shared his insights into how the way technology interacts with human lives has changed over the years, leading to its current iteration of “personal computing dominated by mobile applications”, brought about by the convergence of mobile broadband, social media and more affordable chip technology.

While positive outcomes in terms of technology are exciting to look forward to, complications may arise in the implementation of AI. “It’s a ‘Tower of Babel’ problem. All the devices speak different languages — they have different protocols and different ranges. So we need to find a solution for inter-compatibility, ways to get the devices to talk to each other,” Prof Thean explained.

NUS scientists have already started work on technologies for Smart Nation, he shared, giving examples of solar cells, security chips, diagnostic systems and wearable technologies, and he is hopeful that there will be many other creations. Professor Thean is also leading the Hybrid-Integrated Flexible Electronic Systems research initiative, which seeks to integrate rigid and flexible electronics into systems that address a wide range of applications.

In some ways, I see the Smart Nation as a way to tell the Singapore story. We’re not just efficient, we’re also smart about the things we do. To me, this story has to be compelling. I think this narrative will ultimately be about positioning Singapore as a country with differentiation which we can add value to.

The event also included a talk by Mr Masaki Sox Konno, Managing Director of software and solutions company Dassault Systèmes, Asia Pacific South, who spoke about the applications of smart technologies in the manufacturing sphere and how research can be translated to real world usage. This was followed by a question and answer session, moderated by NUS Engineering Associate Professor Mandar Chitre. The eminent speakers addressed questions on a variety of topics including what a Singapore Smart Nation would look like and the risks of AI.

“In some ways, I see the Smart Nation as a way to tell the Singapore story. We’re not just efficient, we’re also smart about the things we do. To me, this story has to be compelling. I think this narrative will ultimately be about positioning Singapore as a country with differentiation which we can add value to,” said Prof Ho, sharing his perspective of the Smart Nation Initiative.

The NUS Greater Good Series features dialogues and workshops by leading minds on topics related to philanthropy as well as issues that impact the community and society.