Think of AI and what comes to mind is an image of a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger and his equally unclothed metallic friends with ominous red glowing eyes gunning after you and your other squishy out-of-shape human friends who are deemed to be “low threat”.
Thanks to Hollywood, we may subscribe to the idea that artificial intelligence will one day achieve sentience, grow out of human control and seek to enslave all of mankind. But artificial intelligence is in fact, far less malicious, far more mundane and has made life all around much, much better.
Take your washing machine for example. Modern washing machines can decide if clothes are clean enough or if they need another rinse cycle, whether to lower the spinning speed of the drum when the drum is overloaded, or if the water needs to be warmer or colder for the particular program. Built into the washing machine circuitry are various rules that dictate the decision-making process of the washing machine, giving it a semblance of human intelligence.
The application of artificial intelligence in today’s technology is almost ubiquitous. Predictive text input, music suggestions and self-driving cars are all examples of AI in action. In fact, big players in the ASEAN region are already using AI to transform their industries. Here are some of them:
The word ‘grab’ has a negative connotation since it implies sudden and forceful handling which is really unpleasant and uncalled for especially when it involves people and their felines.
In many parts of the Southeast Asia, however, mention Grab, and what comes to mind is an e-hailing, ride-sharing, food-delivery, mobile payment app all rolled into one. Where it was previously competing with Uber in the e-hailing scene, Grab is now the super unicorn threatening to make the physical act of waving down taxis a thing of the past.
Grab is now teaming up with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to launch the Grab-NUS AI lab to develop AI solutions that promise to improve the e-hailing experience. Four key areas are being researched, which is Passenger AI, Driver AI, Traffic AI and Driver AI.
Passenger AI algorithms aim to improve passenger experience by observing passenger habits and helping suggest competitive offers to which are attractive and relevant to passengers. Passengers travelling for work meeting may receive offers which prioritize speed while passengers who are in no hurry to get to their destination may receive offers which prioritize savings in cost.
Driver AI algorithms will be developed to help match drivers to their preferred routes and timing. Additionally, the AI aims to detect erratic driving behaviour and monitor hours spent on the road to ensure safe driving habits.
Traffic AI algorithms can help monitor traffic patterns to optimize travel routes. For example, if a traffic congestion is detected, the AI can suggest alternative routes, or recalculate estimated time of arrival and estimated travel time. The AI can also possibly detect a spike in hailing or ride-sharing demand due to train breakdown and direct drivers to the train station to alleviate the issue.
Location AI can help improve precision and accuracy in mapping so that drivers can find their passengers more easily. Some of these include learning landmarks and identifying exact pickup points so that both passengers and drivers do not say “I’m here” at the pickup point but are actually at opposite sides of the building.
Olam International is one of the world’s leading food and agri-business companies. Headquartered in Singapore, Olam International supplies crops such as cocoa, coffee, cotton, nuts and spices to 23,000 customers located all around the world.
To meet global demand for food and industrial crop products, Olam International works with approximately 4.8 million farmers, a majority of whom are smallholders. Smallholders may be uninformed about best practices for growing their crops, resulting in a less than optimal yield and high vulnerability to weather changes or pestilence.
To help such smallholders grow not just their crops, but their farms too, the OLAM Farmer Information System (OFIS) steps in by being a farming assistance tool that helps empower smallholders.
The system collects farming data from the smallholders, analyses the data using its inbuilt algorithms, and makes recommendations which are tailored to each individual smallholder. For example, the system is able to detect potential problem spots based on data received, and recommend an appropriate action plan or analyse soil conditions and recommend what type of fertilizer or pesticide to use.
Smallholders can also receive training via the system through videos and other types of training modules available through the app. For example, smallholders can learn alternative methods to managing plant diseases instead of relying on large doses of pesticides, which is costly and may affect the desirability of their crop.
Through the system, smallholders are also informed on market prices and are able to communicate with other smallholders. The system also allows digital transactions to be made, enabling farmers to access financial services and also grow financially.
Customer service is a stressful and thankless job, being in the unenviable position of having to receive the brunt of customer complaints which are not due to any fault on your part and having to give advice to customers who think that they know best and are always right.
Since not all customer enquiries require human intervention and there’s just so much a customer service rep can take before breaking a keyboard in half in a fit of rage, chatbots are a good alternative since they are always cheery at any time of the day and do not complain about having to come in to work during public holidays or low pay.
The CIMB Enhanced Virtual Assistant (EVA) is one such AI-powered chatbot, assisting customers with their banking needs such as checking their bank balance, transferring funds to another account, sending reminders about outstanding payments and shaming users for their poor spending habits by showing them graphs of their expenditure wherein one-third of last month’s pay was spent on boba teas and smashed avocado toasts. With EVA, you can type in your instructions as if you were chatting with a teller at the other end of the phone.
Behind the pleasant façade is a natural-language algorithm that is able to recognize human language. For example, if you were to type “Send money to my sweetheart”, it would understand that you intend to initiate a transfer of funds from your bank account to the bank account identified as your “sweetheart”. Contrast this with having to queue up at the bank, navigating the labyrinthine ATM interface if the bank is closed or talking with a customer service rep over the phone with bad cellular reception and it will become apparent how the EVA chatbot makes banking simpler and more convenient.
As can be seen in these few examples, AI integrated technology has the potential to disrupt and revolutionize an industry. To incentivise the development of AI technology, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) has launched the Accelerated Initiative for Artificial Intelligence or (AI2) for short. The program allows applications for patents related to AI technology to be examined and granted at a quicker pace. Whether patent offices in other ASEAN countries will follow suit remains to be seen.
While most may believe that AI is the future, the fact of the matter is that the future is already here. So rather than worrying about the improbability of your descendants being chased by many-tentacled robots with laser weaponry one day in the future, it’s definitely more productive to think about how AI can enhance our lives today.