APAC: Youth, innovation, technology – Our future in their hands

By Alberto Granados, vice president of Sales, Marketing and Operations, Microsoft Asia Pacific.

As technology inevitably becomes more commoditized and democratized, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud computing are playing pivotal roles in altering business, political, societal, and industrial landscapes.  In The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its role in society, we learn that companies and countries that will fare best in the AI era will be those that embrace these changes rapidly and effectively, instead of resisting or delaying adoption. It is also important to recognize that solving the world’s problems with AI cannot fall on the shoulders of the tech sector alone; it should be a shared responsibility.

This means we, as a community, need to create the tools and platforms that will enable every developer, business, and government to build applications and solutions that will benefit our society.

Quoting one of my favorite painters, Salvador Dali, who said “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings”; as these technologies become more accessible and easier to learn, use and implement, we find that many of today’s youth are utilizing their knowledge and intellectual ambition to invent solutions for some of the biggest challenges faced by their communities.

It is remarkable to see how these young minds are stepping up to create solutions for a better world, and for a better tomorrow. At the recently-concluded Imagine Cup Asia Pacific finals held earlier this year, I was greatly inspired by the innovation, commitment, and perseverance of these young innovators to solve real-world problems in agriculture, environmental sustainability, and healthcare.

Agriculture remains an important component of many national economies across Asia Pacific. Team Sochware from Nepal tackled the critical issue of excessive biochemical use in farming at Imagine Cup. Their entry was a machine-learning-powered solution to help farmers identify plant diseases and suggest qualification strategies to help them better manage chemical use during the crop’s lifecycle. Additionally, the team’s solution provided farmers with access to agricultural experts and could alert nearby farms of similar issues. From Sri Lanka, team AlgoR leveraged on AI and predictive analytics to help farmers decide on which cash crops they should grow to maximize their earnings.

One my favorite teams, BeeConnex from Thailand presented the idea of a connected IoT device called the Smart Hive that tracks and monitors the health of a beehive. Did you know that one out of every three bites of food we eat is a result of pollinators like honey bees, and crops like blueberries and cherries are 90 per cent dependent on pollination? Smart Hive collects a variety of data from within the beehive like sounds, images, and humidity levels, which are analysed using  the cloud through signal processing, feature extraction, and deep learning. Beekeepers can remotely monitor hives in real-time, and be notified instantly when abnormal readings are detected. Here’s another interesting fact: It is estimated that bees, acting as pollinators, add US$15 billion a year to food production.

Another critical challenge for the world is an aging population. Team HealthSight from Malaysia proposed an intelligent surveillance system, that detects and helps to prevent patient falls through video. When a fall is detected, on a closed-circuit television (CCTV) setup, the system alerts on-duty nurses on their smartphones. This is important in hospitals worldwide as they grapple with nursing staff shortages and high turnover rates.

Platforms like the Imagine Cup are one way that companies like Microsoft empowers innovators to make a difference and achieve more. I consider Bernard Shaw as one the most provocative thinkers of this century, who said “Progress is not possible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”.

My ask of you, is to learn about technologies like artificial intelligence and think about how it can transform industries, communities and countries; embrace the change and opportunities with AI and look for ways to support your developer, start-up and entrepreneurial communities.

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