Talk of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) may sound futuristic, but the message from the recent 2020 APAC AI conclave conference, presented by Tech in Asia in partnership with Amazon Web Services, is that the technology is already here.
Speaking during the event, founding Partner at Openspace Ventures Hian Goh said: “Lots of people talk about ML and AI development as a kind of buzzword, but it is no longer in the laboratory – it is real, usable and enabling technology. Ten years ago, facial recognition was an idea. Today it is modular. Today, everyone has access to AI. It is a practical technology,” he said.
Technology Operating Partner at Sequoia Capital Ajey Gore agreed, saying AI data is integral to optimise growing digital business.
“For instance, on a food order delivery app. Businesses need to know how many people like spicy food, how many people like sweet things. When do people order? This can all be learnt and processed by AI. Data is a first-class citizen,” he said.
In Cambodia, Yin Seng of Slash – a startup helping companies build and manage high-performing remote software and product teams – said they are involved in a number of AI projects.
“We are currently helping develop an eKYC [Know Your Customer] system, in partnership with Cambodian payment platform innovator Clik, to improve microfinance processes. The technology offers remote identity verification and management for microfinance companies.”
“Through AI, the system can instantly recognise whether a submitted identity card is legitimate or been tampered with, speeding up the application process and removing labour-intensive face-to-face interaction. It also reduces risk, meaning customers can access more money after they are verified,” he said. “AI-powered recommendation systems are also being developed for use, such on eCommerce websites. That’s where by tracking their habits of customers they can better provide better recommendations, simultaneously improving user experience while collecting data for the company about consumer trends.”
However, Seng says that although the interest in AI is increasing, Cambodia faces a challenge because of the lack of AI engineers in the Kingdom.
“We find people go through phases. At first, they become interested in AI, but reach a dead end because it’s hard to access knowledge, training and opportunities.’’
He added: “That’s why we launched Cambodia AI, to give students experience and bridge the gap,” he said.
“Universities such as the National Institute of Posts, Telecoms and ICT [information communications technology] and the American University of Phnom Penh are also offering master classes in AI, which will increase capacity here in Cambodia,” he said.
Seng added although AI is not fully developed yet, it promises lots of potential to help improve efficiency across many areas and industries, which could even help address the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, lots of digital technology that uses AI has helped people, through education apps during school closures and food apps when restaurants were closed,” he said.
“In the future, AI could also help with patient diagnosis and even vaccine production. As we utilise AI even more, it will have a big impact on our future.”
Seng added that aside from AI engineering talent, the other things missing are a strong support network of AI mentors and professionals, open access to digital Khmer data, advanced Khmer natural language processing libraries.
AI is also set to make waves in the construction sector, after a memorandum of understanding between Cambodian Z1 Data Co Ltd – a company that uses AI to research and analyse data in real estate – and US-based company DevMasters was signed, with the aim to develop an extensive database for commercial real estate in Cambodia.
Speaking during the signing in March, Z1 Data Director Him Seyha said: “AI accelerates real estate operations by reducing the time spent with manual labour and it also enhances the efficiency of the real estate transaction and market process. Developing a database using quality artificial intelligence will benefit operators in the real estate market, property owners, agents and the government.”
A report by the McKinsey Global Institute said the benefits of AI and automation to users and businesses, particularly the economic growth that could come via their productivity contributions, are compelling. “They will not only contribute to dynamic economies that create jobs but also help create the economic surpluses that will enable societies to address the workforce transitions that will happen. We should embrace these technologies but also address the workforce transitions and challenges they bring. In many countries this may need sustained investment, new training models, programmes to ease worker transitions, income support and collaboration between the public and private sectors,” it added. The good news for Cambodia is, it has an edge.
Co-founder of Geeks in Cambodia Yohan Brizolier told The Diplomat that the demographic skew means there is an unusually high proportion of “digital natives” already here. “Cambodia’s youthful and increasingly well-educated population is passionate and energetic when it comes to tech adoption – it feels like every day a new startup or hackathon or incubator programme is put in motion,” he said.