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Deep Divers: Thought Leaders Expound on How Deep Tech is Redefining the World

No longer mere moonshots, the deep tech dream is slowly but steadily making its way to the mainstream

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 22 Oct 2018

How Deep Tech is Redefining the World

CREDIT: SGInnovate/Facebook

In this day and age where technology is loosely intertwined with the digital realm — smartphones, the cloud, social media, consumer apps, etc. — it’s easy to misconstrue what constitutes as a “technology breakthrough”.

While tech startups like Uber and AirBnb have disrupted existing models of doing business in their respective industries and ushered in a wave of similar apps—we’ve heard the phrase “the Uber/AirBnb of so and so” one too many times—their impact is mostly confined to the experiences of an individual consumer. To instigate actual technological and scientific progress at world-changing levels like what the Internet and the Industrial Revolution did for communications and manufacturing must always look beyond existing technology.

It’s in this regard that the quietly developing field called Deep Technology (deep tech) is gaining traction.

Deep tech, according to Steve Leonard, the founding CEO of SGInnovate, is “science-based research expressed through engineering.” Simply put, these are cutting-edge, often patent-protected next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, space tech, precision medicine and genetic editing, to name a few, whose product development often takes years and where customer adoption, raising funds, and finding talent are pronouncedly more challenging.

“These are just some of the realities [that come with the deep tech realm], but our core belief is that these technologies go right to the core of some very important problems for humanity,” related Leonard to the attendees of the recently staged Deep Tech Summit on September 2018 in Singapore.

Widely attended by more than 1,000 individuals across different sectors, the inaugural Deep Tech Summit brought thought leaders from major innovation hubs around the world, not only affirming enterprise and investment interest in such emerging technology developments but further explored their potential impact on businesses and societies.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) set to power a seismic shift in healthcare

With most consumer apps today employing AI algorithms and machine learning, AI is no longer as far-fetched a technology as it once was. The technology’s potential to improve the quality of life of millions of people is perhaps at its most palpable in the healthcare sector. Phil Morle, partner at Main Sequence Ventures, asserts that in “the next 20 years at least, AI will be supporting the human beings that make healthcare possible today.”

As it is, AI is already transforming the entire healthcare and wellness continuum, but its potential to make a dent in global healthcare problems lies in the field of medtech—in furthering its ability to help doctors diagnose diseases and recommend treatments more accurately and efficiently. However, high capital outlays in the field pose great risks for investors. “Medtech should lower healthcare costs, but there’s always a hump before costs can go down,” points out Dr. Sidney Yee, CEO of Diagnostics Development Hub and EVP at ETPL.

Philip Kowalczyk, Asia Pacific head of business development and strategy, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices, asserts that increased collaboration will bring about more opportunities. “Partnership will accelerate technology. As we start marrying capabilities, it can create a fast-track environment,” he says. Kathrine Myhre, CEO of Norway Health Tech, concurs and urges deep tech startups to “think out of the box, work across disciplines. This opens new ways of thinking and creates new products.”

Your next co-worker may be a robot

Advancements in robotics already bespeak the potential of AI and autonomous systems to drastically alter the future of work. Robots are becoming smarter and more efficient and have already been adopted in wide-ranging applications as manufacturing (sorting variable parts, assembling equipment) and even performing surgery—functions once considered the sole domain of humans—and their purview is set to expand.

As these developments are imminent, Dr. Ayesha Khanna, CEO of ADDO AI, points to an urgent need to rethink talent development, from education systems to on-the-job training, so workers can cope with an uncertain future. “You don’t need to be a data scientist, but you will need to know how to work with [robots],” she says. Richard Koh, the CTO of Microsoft Singapore, adds this will bring about “a fundamental shift from a know-it-all culture to a learn-it-all culture.”

Even amidst fears that humanoid robots would band and take over the world—technology is a double-edged sword—intelligent machines can raise the quality of our lives. “We may soon have humanoid service robots in hospitals for eldercare, in schools as teaching assistants, and eventually in homes,” predicts Dr. Ben Goertzel, CEO of Singularity NET and chief scientist at Hanson Robotics.

“When AI systems can make scientific discoveries without human input…that will be the future of science,” adds Professor Hiraoki Kitano, president and CEO of Sony Computer Science Laboratories.

Blockchain, when harnessed effectively, can solve humanity’s toughest challenges

When Satoshi Nakamoto designed blockchain in 2008 to act as the public transaction ledger behind Bitcoin, the idea was to create a world without central authorities controlling all the money. This decentralised vision has since gone beyond Bitcoin and is now applied to any transaction that requires trust, from verifying the authenticity of artwork and electoral votes to streamlining finance and data management. “Blockchain’s decentralised nature presents a new paradigm which we can architect economic, social, and political systems,” points out
Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder of Ethereum.

Decentralisation will also bring about greater accountability, asserts Meeta Vouk, director of IBM’s Singapore Research Center. “With greater transparency, immutability and verifiability, in terms of governance, things are going to get better,” he says.

But as the technology expands its footprint across different industries, Humayun Sheikh, founder and CEO of Fetch.AI, asserts the need to build “not just the framework, but also the tools so everyone can participate in this decentralisation.” This is where collaboration plays a vital role, furthers Soeren Duvier, managing director-Asia for Blockchain in Transport Alliance. “Bringing everyone in [an] industry together to examine standards and recommendations for regulations will be key,” he says.

At the Deep Tech Summit, this was set in motion when the tripartite collaboration between SGInnovate, Kingsland University – School of Blockchain, and Ngee Ann Polytechnic launched Singapore’s first certified blockchain developer program.

Designed to accommodate working professionals, the hybrid immersion blockchain programme comprises two courses—“DApps and Solidity” and “Blockchain Networks”—which employ a blend of face-to-face intensive technical training and online supported instruction. Aligned with the Committee on the Future Economy’s recommendation for individuals to acquire and utilise deep skills, the new programme is designed to upskill and transform current software programmers into certified blockchain developers, with the first workshop set this November.


For videos on SGInnovate’s Deep Tech Summit 2018, click here.


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