AI: Equipping the little guy with artificial intelligence

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 19, 2021 - July 25, 2021.
Norhalim (left)  and Mohd Daud (Photo by MTDC)

Norhalim (left) and Mohd Daud (Photo by MTDC)

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It can be difficult for small companies or entrepreneurs in Malaysia to explore advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). They might not have the right resources, expertise or funding to implement the technologies. And yet, using AI could open up new revenue streams for them.

To empower this group of people, the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC), Expert Analytic Centre (M) Sdn Bhd (EAC) and MyFinB (M) Sdn Bhd signed a memorandum of understanding in June to develop the Centre of Excellence for Artificial Intelligence Innovation (CEAI).

The CEAI will collaborate on projects related to AI, data analytics and deep technology, raising awareness and educating the public, government agencies and businesses on how these technologies can be applied.

AI has the ability to create personalised services and is sector-agnostic, says Datuk Dr Mohd Daud Bakar, chairman of MyFinB and founder of EAC. This is particularly beneficial for those with heaps of data that can be turned into useful insights.

“Small and medium enterprises have many ideas but they lack the human resources and money [to build on them]. AI could be a smart way for them to develop their ideas into products,” says Mohd Daud.

MyFinB specialises in using AI to serve financial institutions, government agencies and other industries, while EAC facilitates research related to AI. The two organisations are already jointly working with various local universities and companies to develop AI projects.

CEAI will work with companies in MTDC’s ecosystem at the Centre of 9 Pillars (Co9P) and assist them in implementing AI. The Co9P was set up by MTDC in 2018 for companies to explore Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0) technologies. 

CEAI will also work on more than 10 AI-related projects, jointly managed by MyFinB and EAC, with the goal of commercialising these innovations. The projects include the use of AI in dialysis treatment, financial planning, waqf land optimisation and financial analysis.

“It’s going to be very exciting to work with capable companies. We hope we can develop the capabilities of local entrepreneurs to apply and deploy AI widely,” says Datuk Norhalim Yunus, CEO of MTDC. The government agency is tasked with promoting technology commercialisation and the adoption of technologies among local companies. It also provides funding for tech companies.

MTDC’s expertise in building capacity and networks would be useful to expedite the commercialisation of the AI projects.

“In the long term, we want to explore our capabilities with 100 companies using AI to create products, and with the assistance of MTDC, make them export-ready,” says Mohd Daud. Consequently, this will nurture a local pool of AI talent, which is another goal of the CEAI. 

“This talent will have real experience working with us from the drawing board all the way to converting the [research] into algorithms and apps. This may happen in the next three to five years.”

How can AI be applied?

One of the AI projects that MyFinB and EAC are working on, in collaboration with a university, revolves around managing the health of diabetic patients more effectively.

“Based on the data we have collected using technology, we can see the patterns of what went wrong, what can be done better and how we can ensure our resources — including the doctors, consultants, counsellors and family members — are better connected,” says Mohd Daud.

He hopes to use AI to better manage the care of diabetic patients, which could bring down the cost of care borne by the government.

Another project relates to the use of AI to predict the movement of the stock market. The AI studies data drawn from annual reports, analyst reports and other sources. This analysis is then shared with fund managers or traders.

Meanwhile, a recent project MyFinB and EAC are working on with a university in Perak looks at school dropout rates. Students may drop out due to a variety of reasons, and this trend may have been exacerbated by the pandemic due to the lack of physical interaction in a school environment.

“We are putting together a system to give early warning for dropouts from school. It’s a good technology that we hope can help the government and be exported to other countries,” says Mohd Daud.

Meanwhile, MTDC has several companies in the Co9P already exploring the use of robotics, drones and augmented or virtual reality. Vectolabs Technologies Sdn Bhd, for instance, is an MTDC investee and provides Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, among other products.

Techcapital Resources Sdn Bhd provides robotics and automation solutions to the local manufacturing industry, while 3D Gens Sdn Bhd aims to industrialise 3D-modelling and 3D-printing services.

Starting with education

Through CEAI, MTDC will organise sessions to explore the use of AI among companies in its ecosystem. AI introductory sessions will also be organised for universities. 

These sessions aim to expose the companies to the potential of AI and how it can be implemented in Malaysia through local partners.

“The people must also be trained [in AI] so they can receive the technology. We don’t want to be in a position where people buy expensive machines but it doesn’t contribute to their efficiency,” says Norhalim.

Other than targeting companies, CEAI will also approach government agencies. Given the amount of data that the government has, there is a lot of potential for the application of AI.

“But in the immediate term, we are looking at the commercial sector first. We hope that by working with Dr Daud and his team, we can assist them in commercialising the technologies they’ve identified,” says Norhalim.