EmTech Asia - Inspiration, Innovation and Collaboration.

11 Feb 2016 by


The opening speaker of Day 1, Steve Leonard, outlined the major health threats confronting the world today, including the increasing danger posed by mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, and the Zika outbreak. He said that “Smart Nations were imagined to solve some of these tough global problems we face today, giving us a chance as a country to reflect and create”. This answered my question as to why this conference was being held in Singapore - Singapore is the world’s first Smart Nation and a tech innovation hub. The third year in a row, EmTech Asia conference brought the world’s most influential leaders and innovators from the tech world, who are passionate about addressing major global issues and turning ideas into solutions.


My trip to Singapore was to immerse myself into the two days of workshops, followed by the site visits of Singapore’s innovative institutions and research labs like Science Centre Singapore, Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research & Technology, Singapore University of Technology & Design. During the two days of the conference, I heard 10 young innovators under the age of 35, presenting their three-minute elevator pitches on the EmTech stage. I am grateful to Dr. Reddy’s for giving me the opportunity to attend this conference. 

The topics covered in the conference were many folds: digital life, connected health, augmenting knowledge, intelligent transportation, future of money and population-related challenges, establishing man and machine relationship in different fields. The topics and talks were organised in a way that one would get the glimpse of future possibilities, understand the technologies that will change the face of business, and drive the new global economy. Since the topics were quite diverse, I have tried to summarise the talks that inspired me and have attempted to connect some of the learnings back to my work. 

Deep Learning and the Next Frontier for Artificial Intelligence

Google Brain’s research scientist, Quoc Le, pioneered an approach to artificial intelligence that will let software understand the world, the way humans do. In his talk, he talks about how “so-called machine” learning software often needs comprehension from humans. For example - annotating data, labelling photos/faces.

He elaborated on algorithms that can learn feature representation from data, however, the algorithms weren't so fast & cost effective. 

Why do we want to learn feature representation? 

Deep learning and unsupervised feature learning offer the potential to transform many domains such as vision, speech, and NLP. The two key stages in any object (image, speech) recognition is an identification of features and classifier. Features are hand-crafted and require a human to engineer them. It may take years or decades to come up with features since the process of coming up with each feature is laborious and complicated. At Google, he started to work on finding a way for machines to design these features. He developed an algorithm called RICA (Reconstruction Independent Components Analysis) and used it for unsupervised feature learning. In the era of big data, deep learning can be a disadvantage since it can't read a large amount of data and big data can solve a lot of problems in AI. Advances in AI, robotics and automation are laying the foundations for a future where humans and machines will work side by side. RICA is not something that is domain specific, and can be used and applied in multiple domains where you can learn features from data. His talk made me think: How might we…..

Click here to see AI robot made by Quoc Le. 

What we learned from the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) 

My exposure to robotics started only two years back, during my course at CIID when for the first time I heard about HUBO - a walking humanoid robot developed by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). At this conference, I got to hear and see the man behind the project, Jun-Ho Oh, Director of HUBO. DRC- HUBO managed to beat out 22 other robots participating from five countries by performing 8 tasks flawlessly in the shortest amount of time. DARPA organised the DRC after the Fukushima accident in Japan, hoping to advance the field of disaster robotics. One of the key things that I learnt from the talk and also the most defining point for HUBO, winning over the others was “maintaining the balance” while performing the task like opening a door or operating a drill many robots lost their balance and collapsed on the ground. Since the robot is made with a humanoid form, it has advantages when it operates in a human environment: to minimise the risk of falls Jun-Ho Oh thought about different things, and the simplest was wheels on the knee. This left me awestruck.

Here is the link to see DRC Final Winner.

Connected Health

Cognitive computing and the Future of Healthcare

The opening statement by Joanna Batstone, CTO IBM Research was “Healthcare is a US$7 trillion industry and analysts will tell you that 30% of that is wasted in treating people incorrectly”. Watson health is about improving and enhancing the quality of care, both in terms of the health and wellness of the individual, as well as cures and treatments for specific diseases. In today’s context, data-centricity is building cognitive insights, and this helps most of the healthcare company to move the line from treatment to care for individuals - this was the crux of Batstone’s talk. Cognitive computing has been most helpful with diseases like cancer where the health data were invisible, usually discarded and under-utilised. Watson for Oncology will analyse the patient’s medical record, identify potential evidence-based treatment options, and provide supporting evidence. 


Personalised Beauty: The Future of the Cosmetics

Research and Innovation lab of L’Oréal presented a fascinating perspective on, what could the future of cosmetics look like, how is this related to healthcare, what is really the power of beauty? In Mark Phong’s presentation, he revealed how much of the company’s efforts are focused on 1) Digital augmented reality time for makeup simulations 2) Human genomics 3) Microbes and external environment which controls and regulates health. The company is researching the development of wearables, connected flexible electronics and other sensors which can monitor skin health and hydration. 

Click to see the fascinating virtual make up app

Moving to “Pill-Plus”

After hearing the future sighted presentation and working on project P2P, I was really inspired by the presentation of Dr. Jens Eckstein’s, who is the president of SR-One, an insight and corporate healthcare venture capital fund company. He started his talk with throwing light on how the healthcare industry has transformed from academia to product and service of drug development, and now towards connected health. He talked about how patients and their involvement in the healthcare systems are limited. Caregivers, patients, social workers, governments and pharmacies lack reporting back the negative or failed data in the system. He shared some examples of companies like ZappRx & Avhana Health, who are creating pill + value for patients in the form of personalised medicines.  ZappRx is digital platform that allows health care professionals to work together to deliver specialty drugs faster. 

In the ever-changing landscape of health care, Avhana Health helps practices manage these changes through clinical decision support. This talk made we think: How might we design a system that would allow patients and caregiver to record & report the failed data while tracking adherence?

Digital Life

Sander Arts, VP marketing of Atmel (worldwide leader in design and manufacture of microcontrollers) talked about maker movement is changing the world and Atmel’s partnership with Arduino. He started his talk with a heartbreaking conversation that Sander had with his son. Sander asked his son if he would like to be a father and his son replied, “I am not sure Dad if the world is going to be liveable for my kids”. Over the years, he has is looked at technology and says "Technology only comes to life when it is touched by people.”

Sander shares a project that he worked on “ Eye Controlled Wheelchair” designed for people with Cerebral Palsy and ALS. Eye Controlled Wheelchair is an open source system to drive power chairs by eye movement alone - allowing independent mobility when the use of a person's hands isn't an option. This project and Sander’s powerful quote reassured my belief in design can change the world. During his talk, he also shared a couple of more projects that were inspiring for makers, designed with Arduino for example - Open bionics (open source initiative for low-cost, light-weight, underactuated robot hands and prosthetic devices) and Vinduino (a wine grower's water saving project). Sander showed these projects to his Son who now have started to believe that the world can be liveable if we add value to people’s lives and left the audience with his personal story and a powerful quote

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” - Peter Drucker.

After a very long day 1, I filled myself with coffee and geared towards Day 2 which had presentations on financial technology, intelligent transportation, global population challenges, and augmented and virtual realities.

The future of Money: FinTech, Digital Banking, Payment Gateways and Cryptocurrencies

Sopnendu Mohanty, Chief Fintech Officer at Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) mentioned that the key technologies that are currently changing and in future will change the landscape in finances are (listed in the picture) : 


He said the financial industry is not known for its agility and ability to adapt to disruption, because it is a heavily regulated industry. According to Sopnendu, the way forward is to build infrastructure that would support seamless transactions, moving to a future vision of everything paid via a smartphone. Sopnendu gave the example of Sweden, a highly cashless state where many banks don't accept or provide cash in their branches. He says people already are operating with new options like Apple Pay, which lets you use your iPhone and your fingerprint to pay with better security than the actual card, and predicts that the trend is likely to accelerate. 

Building on the conversation led by Sopnendu, Tony Chew, Citibank’s Asia Pacific regional head of Information Security, and global head of Cyber Security Regulatory Strategy mentioned in his talk that the future of banking is in smartphones which would be using the biometric features, with face and sound recognition. Why are current banking apps in Asia is so awful & primitive? He says all the banking apps that he came across lack imagination and creativity - which allows very simple and basic things on a smartphone. Smartphone users want better services and products, but they are also concerned about the security of such applications. Singapore has the safest banking security in the world, since it is based on hardware tokens, which has minimized the fraud rate to zero; no other banking industry in the world has achieved that. He also mentioned that using a hardware token is so inconvenient and offers a solution to do banking on smartphones by shifting away from tokens and SMS OTPs to biometrics. 


“A biometric template is a mathematical representation of a person’s physiological characteristics, which cannot be reversed engineered or hacked, it is much stronger than encrypted PINs or passwords,” Chew claimed. His point on vulnerabilities in the system arises when people & professionals don't know about biometric and that’s why we are not able to protect the internet 100%. According to him, cybersecurity is about two things 1) know your adversities 2) know your security capabilities.

Intelligent Transportation (To drive or to be driven? ) 

Peter Phleps started the session by addressing the questions how self-driving vehicles might impact the future of Mobility? The automobile industry is far more disruptive than financial industry, and is on the look out to adopt new technologies in a big way by evolving & putting more and more of sensor technologies. He touched upon the point on how the value of time perceived is different with autonomous vehicles that it changes the travel behaviour, and other aspects such as who would benefit the most and who the super commuters are?


Liam Pederson, principal researcher and manager of Autonomous Vehicles at the Nissan Research Centre asked what would be the effect of autonomous cars on the on-demand economy like Uber or Lift? In spite of all its positive attributes, the autonomous cars would face an array of challenges - ranging from dealing with pedestrians, cyclists, and pets. He touched upon the bigger challenges that one can forsee it now are: 1) Maintaining maps 2) Adverse weather 3) Robust computer visions 4) Interacting with people. 

Doug Parker, the nuTonomy chief operating officer said: “we focus on making last mile transportation more efficient to maximise the use of cars - like how will we face the reality of the road and avoid hitting the pedestrians?”

The 9 Billion Population Challenge - Water, Food, and Power for All

Two great projects that left me interested and baffled were - Cultured Beef & The Drinkable book. Mark Post, Chair of Physiology, Team Lead, Cultured Beef, Maastricht University started his talk by stating that meat demand is expected to rise by 70% in the next 30 years due to population growth and increased wealth. Mark and his team envisioned a sustainable alternative to meat production, that is ethical and environmentally friendly, and which could help solve the food crisis and climate change. A project of this kind, makes me think, this would blur the line between what is vegetarian and non-vegetarian? 

See the project here in details : Future Food

Theresa Yankovich invented the first antimicrobial water filter paper for providing the clean water: The pAge Drinkable book. Theresa started Folio water with a vision to provide a range of accessible, effective, robust, and culturally adapted technologies to prevent waterborne illness. The interesting part of this project was the Folia Water products include educational materials that allow users to gain control of their water quality, sanitation, and health. What was impressive about this project was the number of iteration Theresa did along the process and her project truly shows the simplicity of solution for a complex problem. 


Augmented and Virtual Realities

Last but not the least and the most awaited speakers of Day 2 were by RJ Mical, Director of Games, Google and Erin Reynolds, Chief Mollusk (Founder, Creative Director), Flying Mollusk. 

RJ Mical said, “Machine consciousness with being the most important invention in the next 10 years, companionship is the reward of machine consciousness which will allow us to have intelligent and engaging conversations with our gadgets.”



Eric Reynolds shared her project where she used biofeedback technology to make an interactive video game that allows the user to self-help their health. Flying Mollusk & Nevermind are the tools to teach people to manage stress, and eventually, to help people with psychological disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder cope with trauma. Her alternate approach to healthcare was extremely fascinating, she said : “Video games can motivate us to make positive changes in our lives.” She is using biometric sensors to capture data and use the data to trigger games like these. This two talk were a very refreshing way of approaching a problem solving for me.