The Adoption Of AI in a Smart Nation


If it were left up to science fiction writers and alarmists, the conversations around artificial intelligence (AI) would all describe a dystopian battleground where the tech is viewed strictly in offensive and defensive terms.

Thankfully that’s hardly the case, and the discussion is considerably more measured amongst those at the forefront its development.

In fact, certain companies and countries, which will be highlighted herein, have already adopted AI as an integral tool for development. While there are indeed serious issues relating to its safety, proper use, and potential medium to long term effects on society to be considered, the technology that describes computers and their ability to ‘think’ is already a part of our lives in ways you may not have been aware of, and there are a number of reasons to be excited and curious about how to harness it further.

In its broadest terms, AI refers to computing hardware programmed with the ability to plan ahead, perform complex processes, solve problems and learn autonomously in much the same way as humans. While this concept has been employed to some degree for over 100 years, the technology has progressed to the point where simple machine learning is difficult to avoid on a daily basis. Perhaps the most intuitive way to gain an understanding of where the technology is going and how it could be adopted into the development of a smart, digital Brunei, is to try to understand how AI is already being employed to solve longstanding problems from around the world.

One of the formative applications of AI can be traced all the way back to the aviation industry in 1914 when the earliest iterations of autopilot involved sensory devices and gyrostabilisers that assisted the pilot in controlling the aircraft’s speed and centre of gravity. Over a century later it stands as a worthy analog for how computers could complement the jobs of humans rather than take them away, that autopilot today has not nullified the need for human operation but altered it. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that commercial flights encounter an average of only seven minutes of pilot control per flight – during takeoff and landing.

Another more recent, and more obvious, instance of machines with learning ability spends most of its time in the palm of your hand, and applies a myriad of AI-flavoured functions whenever its turned on.

The modern smartphone uses large amounts of incoming data to make decisions and perform tasks on your behalf for functions ranging from spam filtration in your email inbox and calculating the fastest route to work in map and ride-sharing applications; to facial recognition for tagging friends on social media and smart personal assistants like Siri and Google Now using neural networks for interpreting your accent, searching the internet, managing your calendar and more.

These capabilities of computers to mirror human-like behaviour will continue improving indefinitely thanks to the escalation of machine learning algorithms, and perhaps more importantly, the progression of complementary technological advancements such as big data, which sees the collection of millions of data points on everyday behaviours, activities and experiences for virtually every human on the planet; and the internet of things (IoT) which places a network of interconnected and communicating machines around our lives to perform functions and also collect data. Already approaching ubiquity and rapidly moving forward, AI is an immoveable part of the future we’re headed towards and we as a country must search for inspiration, innovation and the impetus to harness the technology for nation building.

Looking at vital sectors like healthcare, education and government, the scalability of artificial intelligence has now impacted technologies and solutions in countries all over the world. We needn’t look farther than Malaysia, with their budding efforts in developing a national AI framework, or to seasoned veterans like Estonia, a country whose entire infrastructure runs nearly fully standalone, or with government staff working alongside AI.

Imagine a day in the future life of a RIPAS healthcare professional with AI technological deployment. From an autonomous car ride into work, to the use of robotics while performing microsurgical procedures, the ability for machines to change life as we know it is not only coming, its coming fast. In the case of a surgery, an AI-enriched working environment would see greater levels of precision with IoT-collected patient data informing trail-following robotic arms that operate in a dot-to-dot fashion. This would free up the surgeon from the from the confining realities of the human condition such as variable motor-skill performance and exhaustion, and enable them to oversee surgeries from behind a control panel with multiple views, metrics and indicators to learn from. Can you imagine a future where this is a reality? Where the ‘medical miracle’ becomes redundant because all treatment is routinely miraculous?

Be it in the health, education or even transport industry, AI is beginning on a long arc towards completely revolutionising the way we live, work and think, and it is of utmost importance for us begin thinking accordingly. We must begin to consider possibilities for change – like how will teachers be able to use technology, data and IoT to transform the classroom experience for every young learner?

Countries like Estonia have long been asking these questions and have come up with some amazing results. 99% of the Northern European state’s public services are available online, 24/7. The e-city has successfully laid the benchmark for having absolute transparency in their solutions and governance. With trust and equality of access at an all-time high, and running costs at an all-time low, we are starting to just scratch the surface of what is possible, and all the signs say that we need to keep on scratching.

What say you? Where do you see AI going in the next five to ten years, and how would you introduce the technology if you had it your way?