EVEN though she has been in the tech industry for more than 30 years, Datuk Yasmin Mahmood still possesses the passion and enthusiasm of a young start-up, always eager to put on the table innovative ideas that could change the industry.
This time, she has come out of semi-retirement to pursue her passion, which is artificial intelligence (AI).
“I’m happily semi-retired, but came out of it to take a non-executive role at Pos Malaysia and another position at Skymind as an adviser,” she said.
Skymind is a global AI ecosystem builder. The company is founded in Silicon Valley, California, and two of its three founders are from Malaysia.
Knowing Yasmin, who had held numerous leading positions in both multinational companies as well as government agencies, there must be something special about what she’s pursuing.
“I choose AI because I believe it is the most destructive, though not in the negative sense, and the most impactful technology today, which includes IR4.0.
“There is a range of suites in IR4.0, but the AI component will soon become the ‘fast and furious’ of technology,” she said.
For her, it’s not about the technology per se.
“What I’m really passionate about is technology for the people, how it can impact people across the board. That has always been my passion.
“There is a phrase that has really caught my imagination — technology with a heart. That’s always what I believe in.
“And this is why I want the young people from all walks of life in Malaysia to understand what technology can do for them, and not see technology as something alien,” she said.
According to Yasmin, AI is a growing industry and has a huge potential.
With the technology, almost everything can be reimagined, from healthcare, transport and cities to our lives.
It is estimated that the AI industry could conservatively touch US$2.9 trillion globally by next year, and US$15 trillion by 2030.
“Malaysia, and Asean, cannot afford to miss the massive potential to win a good share of the AI pie,” she said.
Currently, there is a lot of talk about AI, even in Malaysia, and there are many companies producing AI-driven technology.
“Now you cannot do any kind of application without having an AI engine underneath it,” said Yasmin.
However, she finds that the AI market is still very fragmented, here and globally.
“We have pockets of people who are doing well in coming up with new innovations. However, adoption-wise, it is still an issue. Many companies know they have to adopt AI, but don’t know how to do it in a meaningful way,” she said.
REIMAGINING THE FUTURE
Yasmin said there are three components that are needed to be in place to reimagine the future with AI.
“One is on the supply side. These are the people who are innovating, such as the startups and tech companies which are coming up with innovative solutions.
“You can reimagine everything with AI. For example, in healthcare, the solution that we came out with was the Axial AI-based system, which was installed at Tunku Azizah Hospital to help advance the adoption of analytics and AI in clinical and healthcare research on Covid-19 in Malaysia,” she said.
To make the AI ecosystem work, Skymind has US$800 million in global venture money that is being put aside to invest in startups and tech companies that are coming up with innovative solutions on AI.
“The other part of the ecosystem is the demand side. We have programmes like Launchpads, where basically we go into a company and understand how the AI technology can be implemented.
We are now doing launch pads for a few companies,” said Yasmin.
“When we go into a company, we look at the data that it has because AI feeds on data, and then we’ll come out with a suitable solution.
“In this process, we bring these companies that we have invested in, so we link or stitch them up.
“On one side, we have a client where we look at their problems and say we have a solution for them. And on the other side, we invest in companies and tell them we have the demand for their solution,” said Yasmin.
At the crux of it all is talent.
“I’m such a big believer that anything begins and ends with talent. This is where we put a lot of emphasis,” she said.
“Right now, who knows what kind of talent is needed for AI? People talk about it, but not many know what kind of talent you need,” she added.
Skymind is working on building talents for AI. There are new, unheard of jobs in the AI scene, like AI deep learning engineers and AI data annotators.
“These are the talents that we are looking at right now. We have 300 positions to fill at Skymind,” said Yasmin.
“To cater to this demand, the company is working with five universities to define the curriculum that they should be making for AI talents in the future,” she said, adding that they are very receptive to
tweaking the curriculum.
“Once we have the ecosystem right, then only can we reimagine the future. We can reimagine the future of many industries like health, mobility, transport and cities, and Skymind has the vision to reimagine those scenarios.
Malaysia has a lot of untapped potential to build AI talent and an AI ecosystem, said Yasmin.
“We can compete with the largely American-dominated software industry. My advice for students is to bring together the hybrid set of skills the digital age needs. Combine your tech skills with problem-solving skills, become agile and keep abreast with the latest moves in your chosen industry,” she said.
Yasmin has been nominated for the 2020 Athena40 list, which is created to bring influential women across the globe to share their vision and values. She is the only woman from Southeast Asia to be on list, which includes influential women such as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thurnberg, Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie.
“This is a surprise and an honour, especially as the listing includes women in different fields. I’m very honoured with the nomination,” said Yasmin.
Athena40 is an initiative promoting women in leadership and recognising pioneering women from around the world. It was launched in 2018 under the international non profit organisation Global Thinkers Forum (GTF).
Its inaugural forum and gala were scheduled to take place in April, but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is an opportunity to talk about the positive progress made by women in Malaysia, and indeed in this region, and the contributions they can make to the economy and to the nation,” she said.