Insights into the digital future 

opinion June 22, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

Speakers at a Bangkok summit unveil the promise of technology and hint at how far Thailand still has to go



The Singularity U Thailand Summit 2018, which took place in Bangkok this week, has once again highlighted the importance of new technologies in long-range national development. There were two notable speakers. David Hunt discussed the future of agriculture and Vivienne Ming addressed artificial intelligence.

According to Hunt – a faculty member at Singularity University and co-founder of Cainthus, a company focusing on the digital-isation of agricultural practices – about 40 per cent of the Thai population still works in the farm sector today. And their future hinges on how soon and effectively they adopt new technologies to stay competitive. For owners of small and medium-sized farms, the only option for survival is to compete on quality of produce while the giant multinationals focus on pricing, taking advantage of economies of scale.

With the world no longer facing a genuine shortage of food, nutrigenomics – the interaction of nutrition and genes, especially for the prevention or treatment of diseases – is one promising technology for the farm sector.

Obesity has become a chronic problem in some countries, so the question is what types of food should be produced to address the issue. At present, the world’s food supply chain mainly concentrates on quantity, not quality, thus contributing to the global trend towards obesity.

To maintain a significant sector growing crucial crops such as rice and our international competitiveness, Thailand needs to adopt new technologies and enhance the quality of its produce. 

The livestock sector similarly faces a challenge with technology boosting productivity and farmer competitiveness. With the largest dairy-cow sector in Southeast Asia, Thailand will benefit from using smart cameras and sensors in the management of dairy barns.

 Closed-circuit TV cameras can be installed to monitor the cows while sensors control the temperature, humidity, level of ammonia and other factors. With artificial intelligence (AI) cameras, every cow can be accurately identified multiple times a day so the farmers are aware of their eating and drinking habits and general condition. Such data tell the farmer whether any intervention is required.

The same technology is applicable to farmed pigs, poultry and fish – able to increase productivity and take advantage of nutrigenomics to improve the quality of our food and respond to the problem of improper diets.

Ming – a theoretical neuro-scientist and entrepreneur and co-founder of Socos Labs – said she uses AI to better people’s lives, but suggested that machines will not “take over the world”, but rather work with humans to transform the economy.

AI can now, for example, read a complicated non-disclosure contract far more efficiently than a human lawyer. It’s been measured at 95 per cent accuracy compared to the lawyer’s 88 per cent. And the AI can do so in far less time.

A human-machine partnership is emerging to take advantage of new technologies as humans delegate routine and repetitive work, including robotic coding, to machines while focusing on more creative and exploratory work.

The cognitive neuroscience field has been advancing markedly, and in 20 years’ time the era of augmented intelligence is likely to be dawning. At that point the workforce, job recruiting, parenting and schooling will be transformed in unprecedented ways as we create jobs whose pre-qualifications would likely include growth-mindset and resilience.

For Thailand, education reform as we know it will, at the least, not match the new requirements and reality driven by today’s digital and other key technologies.