Sawatdee, AI Apprentice!

Just over a year ago this month, AI Singapore played host to a small delegation from the University Technology Center (UTC) Chulalongkorn University (link). It was a casual getting-to-know-each-other chat over drinks in town which was still possible before the appearance of COVID-19. The UTC side was led by Assistant Professor Natawut Nupairoj, its Acting Director, while AI Singapore was represented by our Deputy Director Koo Sengmeng. Within a few weeks of this meeting of six, UTC would have its soft launch in Thailand (link).

UTC was established to address the so-called “valley of death” – the gap between translating university research and IP to working applications with commercial value. This is not a unique challenge as Singapore had already addressed this with its 100 Experiments (100E) programme. However, it was the arguably more difficult related challenge of nurturing AI talent which Prof Natawut had primarily in mind when making the visit to Singapore. Talent is essential to power any such translation. Coincidentally, in the preceding month (Oct 2019), AI Singapore’s AI Apprenticeship Programme had made the news as one of the country winners in the “Talent Accelerator” category in the year’s IDC Digital Transformation Awards (DX Awards) (link). Getting to this stage had not been a straight walk in the park as it involved (and still involves) a lot of experimentations and adaptations in what was at that time essentially uncharted territory. Sengmeng was happy to share our experiences with our Thai counterparts in order to get them quickly up to speed in their own endeavour.

From the good initial meeting, as activities in UTC ramped up, correspondence between UTC and AI Singapore continued unabated, notwithstanding the disruptions that COVID-19 wrecked upon the world. In recognition of AI Singapore’s contributions, Sengmeng was appointed a member of the UTC International Advisory Panel where he continues to provide recommendations on its direction and targets, as well as explore areas of AI collaboration between Singapore and Thailand. Among other things, he also gave a virtual talk at the Summer Seminar in the Bachelor of Arts and Science in Integrated Innovation (BAScii) programme at Chulalongkorn University.

(Image Source)

UTC has since launched their own AI Academy Training and Apprenticeship Programme. It consists of an initial two months of intensive assignment-based self-learning, followed by twelve months of paid apprenticeship (up to THB50k or SGD2.2k) in a real-world AI project in either the healthcare or industry domain. If you are familiar with AI Singapore’s AI Apprenticeship Programme, which recently produced the fifth batch of graduates, the similarity in form and content cannot be missed. The first fruits of UTC’s programme will be harvested in September next year. In a way, we at AI Singapore feel encouraged that our model of talent development has been adopted to a large degree by our neighbour. As Sengmeng reflects upon working with UTC in the past twelve months:

I am glad that UTC has found tremendous value in our talent programmes. In fact, we’re looking forward to working with more international partners in months to come so that all of us will benefit from our shared experiences. Together, we nurture existing AI talents and groom future ones, not just for our countries but for all of humanity.

– Koo Sengmeng, Deputy Director of AI Innovation, AI Singapore

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(Top image taken in Larch Valley in the Canadian Rockies on my last trip before COVID-19)