Two leading Singapore universities announce initiatives to strengthen Data Science & Artificial Intelligence R&D

Professor Ong Yew Soon, Chair of NTU’s School of Computer Science and Engineering (Photo credit: NTU)

Today, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University Singapore (NUS) announced initiatives to strengthen research and development in the fields of data science and artificial intelligence. While, NTU launched a new institute, NUS repositioned an existing institute. Both are working closely in partnership with industry to develop innovative solutions and products for Singapore’s society and economy.

Data Science & Artificial Intelligence Research Centre at NTU

NTU announced the establishment of a new Data Science & Artificial Intelligence Research Centre (DSAIR) today. The new research centre will receive about S$8 million in funding from NTU over the next three years. It is attracting the attention of international firms, such as PayPal, and NVIDIA.

The multi-disciplinary research centre will have 60 scientists and researchers and will be jointly headed by Prof Chee Yeow Meng, Chair of NTU’s School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, and Professor Ong Yew Soon, Chair of NTU’s School of Computer Science and Engineering.

NTU President Professor Bertil Andersson said, “NTU is at the forefront of AI algorithms and data analytics, having developed pioneering technologies in advanced supercomputing data centres and complex decision-making algorithms to aid business processes. With the new NTU research centre, we aim to push the field even further by developing innovations in the way we collect, analyse and utilise the massive amounts of information available today, as big data will form a crucial part of Singapore’s Smart Nation infrastructure.”

In addition to industry-focused research, the centre will also develop edutainment technologies which can interest and educate more young people in the fields of data science and AI, helping Singapore meet the challenge of developing an adequate talent pool.

Earlier this year in January, NTU also officially launched their Smart Mobility Consortium in collaboration with NXP, together with 11 other local and international industy partners to focus on testing and developing smart mobility technologies, using the campus as a living test bed.

Examples of research projects

One project involves new crowd-sensing technologies using LEDs (Light Emitting Devices). With LEDs becoming the top choice for energy-saving lighting, it can potentially be used to detect the number of occupants in a current location or the number of cars traveling on the roads. With the information, smart control systems will be able to adjust the lights and air-conditioning of a room based on its current usage, or to adjust traffic lights to the traffic density.

Another project enables lay users to design games and apps, by inputting their ideas using a simple drag-and-drop graphical interface. An automatic coding module will work in the background to enable Artificial Intelligence (AI) features. Such a software would allow lay users to develop sophisticated games, including those with characters or avatars that have their own set of unique behaviours, without doing any complex coding.

Masters and PhD students from NTU are working closely with PayPal on FinTech research areas such as applying new data science and AI techniques to improve customer service experience; mine network effects; perform implicit authentication; assess credit risk; as well as improve prediction of fraudulent behavior.

Advanced research facilities

The new centre has acquired two state-of-the-art DGX-1 systems from NVIDIA, which is the company’s most advanced computing system for deep learning. Problems such as image recognition, understanding the context of an image and producing text descriptions of it, can only be tackled using deep learning. The DGX-1 extreme computation capacities can significantly improve the speed and scalability of deep learning algorithms

NTU researchers are also working on a project with NVIDIA for the development of a deep learning model that helps developers find software bugs and vulnerabilities in complex computing systems, so as to ensure the quality and security of their software.

DSAIR will have a KunLun server, unveiled last year by Huawei as the world’s first 32-socket x86 mission critical server, an ultrafast and reliable computer system that can house up to 32 Central Processing Units.

NUS Smart Systems Institute

The NUS announced that it will reposition the existing Interactive and Digital Media Institute (IDMI) institute that conducts interactive and digital media research, renaming it the NUS Smart Systems Institute (SSI) and giving it a sharper focus on building strong capabilities and expertise in AI and big data analytics.

SSI will also conduct applied research in augmented reality, virtual reality, Internet of Things and media technologies. It will be an integral part of NUS’ Smart Nation Research Cluster, established in 2016 to support Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative.

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SSI hosts three international research centres: Keio-NUS CUTE (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments) Center, NUS-Tsinghua Extreme Search Centre (NExT) and the Sensor-enhanced Social Media (SeSaMe) Centre, which is a collaboration between NUS and Zhejiang University of China.

The institute also comprises three research laboratories: Social Robotics Lab, Ambience Intelligence Lab and the Living Lab. Extensive sensor research and deployment, along with test-bedding activities are conducted at the Living Lab.

Focusing on the entire research to market lifecycle, high-end smart systems research conducted at SSI will be followed through to translate the research output into innovative solutions for the market. SSI will also continue to encourage spin-offs and find opportunities to work with industry in healthcare, wellness, education, and security,and contribute to relevant government initiatives.

Professor Ho Teck Hua, NUS Deputy President (Research & Technology) and Tan Chin Tuan Centennial Professor, said, “NUS established the Interactive and Digital Media Institute in 2007 to support the national effort to push the development of interactive and digital media (IDM) technology and industry in Singapore. Over the last decade, the institute has developed strong capabilities beyond IDM, in many areas in computer science including AI. It is therefore timely to reposition the institute with a new name and to sharpen its focus for the Smart Nation Initiative.”                    Two complementary institutes

Two other NUS research institutes will complementing SSI’s activities and capabilities. The first is the NUS Institute of Operations Research and Analytics (IORA). Established in November 2016, IORA conducts cutting-edge basic and applied research on the optimisation, analysis and management of service systems, including model formulation, algorithm design, analysis of service strategies, and software development.                    As an example of the work done at IORA, the institute has set up a research programme on last mile delivery operation with smart devices and operations to support the Government’s vision of a federated locker system on the island. IORA is also working with local hospitals to optimise resource allocation and utilisation, as well as developing a cutting-edge solver to tackle large-scale complex models that are often encountered in the field of data analytics.

Members of IORA are part of the research group SPIRE (Service Productivity and Innovation Research), which recently won a multi-million dollar research grant from the Social Science Research Council to develop cost-effective and scalable strategies to raise productivity across multiple industries, including supermarkets, logistics, car-sharing services, and healthcare.

The second institute is the NUS Institute of Data Science (IDS) which coordinates and supports data science research initiatives across NUS.

IDS promotes and supports transdisciplinary research in data science. Some interesting research projects at IDS include the development of an integrated event analytics platform for efficient perception, accurate detection, on-time tracking, advanced pre-warning, and trend analysis of social events; as well as the design and implementation of analytics solutions for the modelling and analysis of water quality and the factors influencing water quality to generate findings to inform water management policies.

The institute works closely with academic and industry partners (such as Microsoft, Alibaba Cloud and EZ Link) as well as government agencies. For instance, IDS is working with Workforce Singapore on analytics for job skills for the future. IDS will develop algorithms to analyse job seekers’ current skillsets and compare them against skillsets sought by companies from online job postings.  

Read the press release from NTU here.Read the press release from NUS here.

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