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Artificial intelligence could be Taiwan's niche in the world

2018/02/18 12:43:05

Ethan Tu (杜奕瑾)

Taipei, Feb. 18 (CNA) 2018 has been dubbed by many tech and business insiders the year of artificial intelligence (AI). As Taiwan seeks to innovate on multiple scientific, cultural and humanitarian fronts, AI might just be the answer it has been looking for to make a name for itself on the global stage.

CNA sat down with Ethan Tu (杜奕瑾), founder of Taiwan AI Labs, in January to talk about the potential for AI development on the island.

According to Tu, who leads a team of 30 at the labs, Taiwan is well-positioned to be what he calls the "AI island of the world."

He explained that Taiwan has several advantages when it comes to software and big data, and can utilize them to put AI to good use.

Using the health care system as an example, Tu said that Taiwan currently has the most comprehensive national health insurance system in the world and is a world leader in digitalizing hospital records.

This network and data provide a foundation that researchers and scientists can work on to incorporate AI technologies and create a smarter, automated health care system, he explained.

As Tu explains, AI is a tool, one that cuts costs and maximizes efficiency, but a tool nonetheless that requires someone with an idea to put it to use.

The challenge for Taiwan, with its abundance of big data, the largest information and communication technology industry in the world and a strong Internet of things network, is cultivating and retaining talent.

Tu, an engineer who founded the popular bulletin board system PTT, said that current working conditions in Taiwan, especially in the tech industry, stifle innovation.

"Once people are bogged down by work, they lose their creativity," he said, pointing to the long hours, low wages and hierarchical structure at many Taiwanese companies that prevent people from having real life experiences which are the key to being inspired to create software.

Furthermore, Taiwan's education system does not foster innovation, Tu said, saying that such a system emphasizes the right, standard answer instead of being more critical and asking questions.

Therefore, most of the engineers he has seen at local companies are rigid, afraid to voice their opinions and do whatever their bosses tell them to do.

With no time to sleep, there is no time to think, which means even less time to innovate, Tu said.

This stands in sharp contrast to engineers working at foreign companies who do not spend all their time in the office, but instead go outside and explore in order to get inspired to innovate.

Taiwan has a vast amount of resources in both software and hardware to make advances in AI, so what it really comes down to is innovation because that is where value comes from, Tu said.

As Tu continues to grow his Taiwan AI Labs, with the goal of having a staff of 60 by the end of the year, he plans to focus on developing medical treatment, smart cities and human machine interfaces, in all of which AI plays an important role and offers practical benefits for society at large.

(By Kuan-lin Liu and Chiu Po-sheng)