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Embracing artificial intelligence for industry

The Business Times by LANCE WANG

OVER the past year, we have witnessed a growing number of businesses in Singapore adopt artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to transform their operations and gain a competitive edge. Be it in increasing sales, improving customer experience or gaining predictive insights, businesses across the board are considering AI as a means to solve business problems and real-life issues.

Looking towards 2019, we expect to see AI move from hype and into the mainstream.

One trend that will continue to prevail is the expanding scope of AI applications across industries. While Singapore currently trails Indonesia and Thailand in terms of organisations adopting AI, there is tremendous potential for acceleration in the coming year.

According to a study by IDC, just 9.9 per cent of Singapore companies currently adopt AI. Yet, 35 per cent of organisations surveyed indicated plans to adopt AI soon.

The key ingredients for widespread AI adoption in Singapore are already in place - a government that has pushed policies that support innovation, advanced digital infrastructure that has attributed to a thriving AI ecosystem as well as various public-private initiatives.

Alongside these factors, businesses and citizens have demonstrated a willingness to embrace AI as enablers of change. Heading into 2019, these are the verticals and industries where AI will gain momentum.

AI IN HEALTH CARE

Rapidly ageing populations and the rise of chronic diseases are putting huge strains on healthcare resources in Singapore. While efforts have been made to upgrade healthcare infrastructure and train more healthcare professionals to meet this growing demand, the healthcare industry is turning to AI to alleviate the strain on healthcare systems and optimise operational efficiency.

For instance, National University Health System (NUHS) is test-bedding Discovery AI, an AI healthcare system that leverages different AI tools to help make sense of patient data and empower doctors to make better decisions for their patients.

AI diagnostic imaging is another area that can play a vital role in improving medical care in Singapore. Lung cancer is the second and third most common cancer in Singaporean males and females respectively, killing more than 1,100 people every year. Diagnosed early, individuals with early stage lung cancer have up to a 73 per cent chance of surviving for five years following appropriate cancer treatment. With the ability to spot early-stage cancerous lung nodules, which can be easy to miss from traditional lung computer tomography (CT) scans, AI diagnostic imaging has the potential to help these patients be diagnosed earlier, thus saving lives.

In clinical practice, radiologists frequently review 200 to 400 CT images per patient in a typical CT scan for lung cancer screening. This is compounded by the fact that radiology departments in Singapore hospitals are often faced with heavy workloads and short turnaround times.

AI-powered diagnostic systems thus serve as a powerful assistive tool for radiologists, enhancing and expediting their review of CT scans and relieving the work pressure and fatigue they may face. For instance, radiologists using Yitu Healthcare's AI diagnostic system for lung cancer find that they can finish reading CT scans of 600 patients in about 18 minutes, compared to the average of 16 hours that would have been needed to analyse all those CT scan images. This enables them to devote more time to caring for patients or undertaking more clinical research work, resulting in better patient outcomes.

AI FOR GREEN BUILDINGS

In November last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that Singapore must do more to protect the environment as the threat of climate change intensifies both locally and globally. Singapore has made addressing climate change a priority, pledging in 2015 to reduce Emissions Intensity (EI) by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to stabilise emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030.

Green buildings may be the key to reducing Singapore's carbon footprint - our buildings contribute nearly a quarter of Singapore's carbon emissions. AI technologies, applied to building data such as electricity or water usage, can help buildings become smarter and greener. The increasing sophistication of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors have made it possible to monitor building performance in real time. Combined with AI, this data can be transformed into actionable insights and lead changes in facilities management. Keppel Land is exploring such a use case in a trial with Yitu's R&D Centre in Singapore. For example, motion sensors can feed data to air-conditioning systems that can be adjusted according to the number of occupants in a room, thus improving energy performance.

AI IN RETAIL AND HOSPITALITY

From unmanned retail to paying with your face, AI is rapidly changing the retail experience. Customer service is one area poised to be transformed by AI as retailers realise its immense potential in creating more rewarding experiences for both customers and store employees. Retailers can leverage facial recognition technology and data analytics for example, to better understand the profile of their customers and delight them with personalised products and services.

The same underlying technology can be applied to facilitate seamless hotel check-ins. Imagine being able to skip the hassle of queuing at the hotel lobby for check-in and proceeding straight to your hotel room, where you enter just by scanning your face. This could soon be a reality, in line with the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) plans for the Smart Hotel Technology Roadmap.

As conversations around data security and privacy move to the fore, it is important to build a trusted AI ecosystem via open, transparent discussions. The establishment of the Singapore Advisory Council on the Ethical Use of AI and Data marks a commendable step forward to discuss and formulate guidelines on how AI and data should be used across industries in order to foster a trusted AI ecosystem with an eye on the future.

For AI to continue driving innovation and productivity however, winning consumers' trust in AI technologies will become paramount. Misconceptions about what AI can and cannot do are rife. Instilling trust will require collaboration between industry, government and academia to develop and deploy AI technologies in a responsible manner.

With more industries embracing AI, building up national AI capabilities will be crucial for Singapore's AI-ready future. Heading into 2019, there will be a growing need for skilled talents who are adept at harnessing AI effectively across a variety of industries.

While the government and corporates have kickstarted AI training programmes such as the AI for Everyone (AI4E) and AI for Industry (AI4I) initiatives, citizens will also need to embrace lifelong learning and take the initiative to pick up AI skills in order to seize new opportunities in an AI-centric economy.

  • The writer is general manager of South-east Asia, Hong Kong & Macau, at Yitu Technology