Gearing up for the AI revolution

Launching the Alibaba-NTU Singapore Joint Research Institute: (from right) NTU Vice President (Research) Prof Lam Khin Yong; NTU President Prof Subra Suresh; Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and Ministry of Health, Dr Amy Khor; Alibaba Group CTO Mr Jeff Zhang; and Alibaba Group’s Director of Technology Strategy, Ms Liu Xiangwen. Credit: NTU.

Ranked the world’s top university for citations in AI according to a 2017 list published by Nikkei and Elsevier, NTU has emerged as the perfect partner for Chinese Tech giant Alibaba Group’s first joint research institute outside China.

If you’ve received a movie recommendation from Netflix or searched for an answer to a query on Google, you’ve experienced first-hand how artificial intelligence (AI) can help us in our daily lives.

NTU is committed to driving the AI revolution with its flagship Smart Campus initiative. The University’s main campus is a testbed for technologies such as driverless and electric cars and buses, intelligent buildings and social robots, as well as smart resources and digital services for students and staff.

At the Alibaba-NTU Singapore Joint Research Institute—a multimillion-dollar collaboration over five years—researchers will explore AI in three main areas: health, home and city. Supported by an initial joint pool of 50 researchers, it will bring together Alibaba’s leading technologies in natural language processing, computer vision, machine learning and cloud computing, with NTU’s human-centred AI technologies in health, ageing, homes and communities.

“The humanised AI developed by NTU is enriched with human characteristics and values such as trust, emotions, persuasiveness and curiosity. It is aimed at helping us, humans, to interact with AI in a safe, simple and intuitive way,” says NTU President Prof Subra Suresh.

“Using AI technologies, we can address fundamental societal challenges such as an ageing population, which is a major issue for cities with rapidly ageing population demographics including Singapore,” he adds.

Examples of AI technologies geared towards easing age-related issues include AI-driven monitoring of daily activities of elderly people at home or in nursing homes to facilitate early detection or prediction of problems, as well as AI companions and assistance at home. Other joint projects will leverage NTU’s track record in healthcare research and Alibaba’s industrial experience with hospitals to advance diagnosis and prevention of diseases.

“NTU is known for its dedication to cutting-edge technologies like AI, as well as a strong track record of fruitful partnerships with the industry,” says Mr Jeff Zhang, CTO of the Alibaba Group.

“The key outcomes of industry-academia partnerships such as the Alibaba-NTU Singapore Joint Research Institute are innovation and education, where ideas are turned into marketable products and NTU students are prepared for the 21st century workplace,” says NTU’s Vice President (Research) Prof Lam Khin Yong.

This article appeared first in NTU’s research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #13, June 2018).

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