Future of Smart Cities and Smart Nations

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme interviews Dr. Ayesha Khanna CEO and founder ADDO AI.

In this interview Dr. Ayesha Khanna talks of:

– Smart Cities and smart nations — opportunities and threats

– Reasons why Singapore was voted as lead smart city

ADDO AI’s portfolio of work

– Ethics and security related to the advancement of exponential technology

– Her charity 21C Girls

– Rich Connectedness™ — the impact it has had on her career and especially to the motivation for founding her charity

– AI for good

– Her new book U + AI to be published in 2022.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna. Credit: Dr. Ayesha Khanna.

Official Bio: Dr. Ayesha Khanna is Co-Founder and CEO of ADDO AI, an artificial intelligence (AI) solutions firm and incubator. She has been a strategic advisor on artificial intelligence, smart cities and fintech to leading corporations and governments. Ayesha serves on the Board of Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the Singapore government’s agency that develops and regulates its world-class technology sector to drive the country’s digital economy and power its Smart Nation vision. Ayesha is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Councils, a community of international experts who provide thought leadership on the impact and governance of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:01:30] Welcome everybody again to another episode of the ideaXme show. I’m Andrea Macdonald, the founder of ideaXme. ideaXme is a global network, a podcast available in 40 countries worldwide, a creator series and a mentor program. Our mission is to share knowledge of the future. Today, we’re going to talk about smart cities and smart nations. I’m here with the founder of ADDO AI, who will take us through the latest developments in the area. Who are you?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:03:54] Hi, I’m Ayesha Khanna, and I am the CEO and co-founder of ADDO AI and we are a team of machine learning engineers, data architects and data engineers, and we have a passion for solving problems using data and artificial intelligence.

Threats and Opportunities of Smart Cities

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:04:14] Can you take us through the benefits and pitfalls of smart cities and smart nations?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:04:25] I love that question because it’s so important when you’re talking about any technology that you understand that it has both advantages and it has risks. So when you are thinking about a smart city, you are essentially thinking about an urban environment that has a digital layer on top of the physical layer.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna. Credit: Dr. Ayesha Khanna.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:04:47] We have experienced this in terms of security wherever we are, because there are cameras and sensors and in terms of traffic containment. But more and more we’re going to see it filtering through every aspect of our life in the city. This includes sustainable buildings so that we are reducing our carbon footprint in the world. It includes autonomous vehicles that are all managed by AI and data so they are not only daily commuter optimized, but the logistics of companies and the free flow of goods and services is optimized, which has enormous benefits for the urban economy.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:05:26] Then of course, there’s this idea of augmenting spaces digitally so that your school can be, in the case of a pandemic, for example, in a smaller space with fewer people nearby. Here, you are using a combination of augmented reality and virtual reality combined with artificial intelligence to personalize the information given to you, highlighting your strengths, identifying the weaknesses and so on and so forth. You can imagine something similar working for all of the sectors of the government.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:06:04] Now, all of that is well and good, but whenever you have data, especially personal data, it’s so important to be demanding of the companies. The government agencies that take that data from us, it is important that they use it in an ethical, responsible, transparent and accountable manner. Looking at just a simple example of fake news, fake videos and fake images show us that it is so easy to manipulate human beings because A.I. has a lot of contextual intelligence about us as it’s getting so many feeds of data from the way we’re moving around to where we are. It can use that to manipulate us if it wants. So I think that governance, regulations and responsible AI is something that bold and thoughtful leaders do, even if there’s no pressure, stock, investor pressure or otherwise. I think that’s what we need. We need that balance.

Cyber Threats to Smart Cities

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:07:06] We had Dr. LaMesha Craft on the show, who until recently was, an All Source Warrant Officer for the US Intelligence Services, and one of her areas of interest has been food security, agricultural security. She mentioned in her interview that there would be threats in growing food produce within smart cities. What do you think can be done to protect networks like that?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:07:51] Well, I don’t know how there would be threats. If you look at Singapore, we import all of our food, almost all of it, and we have, after this pandemic shock, determined as a country that we would want 30% of our food to come internally to our borders by 2030. So it’s called 30 by 30, that’s the vision. For that, we’re looking at a lot of different options we’re looking at vertical farming. We are looking at plant-based food, we’re looking at food that is generated in the lab, and in order to produce food that’s healthy and safe, you need artificial intelligence.

Smart Farms.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:08:34] If I could interject there. Dr. Craft was specifically, I think, referring to vertical farming.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:08:42] Ok, and did she mean that it is a threat to the city?

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:08:49] She mentioned that there were potential threats there. Obviously there are huge benefits to vertical farming.She used vertical farming as an example, that there would be threats (from cyber attacks) to guard against.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:09:21] Well, I mean, look, I don’t know exactly what threats she was referring to, because I’m not an expert in vertical farming. But I think in any place that you have networked digitization and where you are using different kinds of robotics or any other artificial intelligence powered machines to plant the water to optimize this exposure to the sun, all of these have to be very carefully managed.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:09:51] Cybersecurity is one thing, you don’t want anybody hacking into them and creating some kind of compound, although it would be hard because these are naturally grown. They’re not grown in the lab. But even then, you do not want anything to happen to them that would could end up harming the urban citizens. I think that would probably be what she was thinking about.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:10:16] Otherwise, most of the threats that come from smart cities and digital infrastructure are related to three things. Number one, what is your data governance? With all of this data that you’re gathering, how are you keeping it safe, secure and private? The other thing is, how is your cybersecurity? How strong is it, so that you’re protecting yourself against anybody who can inject poisonous code into it? And the third is, how are you taking care of people who lose their jobs? Which happens when you have any kind of automation or new technology. These are the things that people worry about the most.

Smart Cities and Sustainability

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:10:54] If you look qualitatively at the efficiency of life and the time it opens up for people when they have more efficient transportation, they have more efficient energy consumption, their productivity and their leisure time should theoretically go up. But these issues need to be taken care of. What you don’t want is, that people who are in agriculture are being displaced. Now, that’s not the case with Singapore because we do not grow our own food. In fact, this would create absolutely new kinds of jobs. But I can see maybe in some other places the small farmers may be displaced and that’s something to be concerned about it, to help them go over this hump.

Economic Benefits of Smart Cities and Smart Nations

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:11:38] So there are enormous benefits in having smart cities and smart nations, Barclays in 2020 released a report which said that by 2026 there was going to be over 20 trillion dollars in terms of economic benefits attached to smart cities and smart nations. Could you talk to us about those economic benefits to the economies of cities and countries?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:12:16] Absolutely, first of all, there is so much investment going into digital infrastructure, just the act of putting up infrastructure, whether it is data centers and of course, you have to have sustainable data centers, or it’s the 5G telecommunications networks that are then going to allow the Internet of Things and more smart networks to form. Whenever you invest in anything smart, for example, construction, we have such a large carbon footprint coming from construction. However, if you use prefabrication for some percent of your construction and you are using artificial intelligence and drones, for example, and computer vision to monitor the site and make sure that it’s secure and that all inputs are optimally used so there’s no wastage, you have enormous benefits to the companies and the individuals and the government agencies that are investing in this. New jobs are also created that were not there before.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:13:15] Once the infrastructure is in place, then you have the next level of benefits and externalities, which is really what infrastructure investment is about, more connectivity between different parts of the country. Or in the case of a small country like Singapore, to its neighbors so that they can be a more free flow of goods and services and more trade. Then you can benefit in industries like manufacturing. We can have smart factories, for example, that we haven’t had yet because all of the sensors and the machines, we don’t know how to optimize them yet. We can’t do predictive maintenance on them yet.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:13:55] For example, on a plane, it’s quite similar. When there’s an error on the plane when it comes down to maintenance, if you open your iPad or whatever laptop you’re using, it will tell you that this particular part is about to fail. But these factories are huge and there’s so much potential over here to use robots to automate the process, but also to use artificial intelligence to decrease the inefficiencies in it. None of this is possible without the infrastructure investment in 5G telecommunications for the Internet of Things.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:14:30] We see entirely new industries pop up which haven’t been there before, such as food tech, such as fintech. I talk a lot about emerging markets because these growth markets are really where we’ll see these smart investments pay off. Just giving people a mobile phone and using their information and digital footprint in an ethical and accountable and responsible manner which is in compliance with the country’s regulations, you can actually give them loans. They can use this to send their children to college, to get a home, to start a small business. This kind of alternate data was not available before so many of these people remained below the poverty line.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:15:23] So, there are just ripple effects upon ripple effects when the economy grows, as more opportunities come forth to serve people better. The winners of this every time are customer centric companies. There will be a huge tsunami of demand for customers as these technologies come to offer personalized responsible services, and they will be powered by data, which is the oil or the nervous system of the smart city.

Singapore Voted as Lead Smart City

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:15:53] In 2020, Singapore was voted the smartest city out of 109 cities globally. Could you talk to us about why that is and the role you played in that?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:16:11] Well, I didn’t play a big role at all, this is something that started decades ago. Singapore has been investing in infrastructure and then in the digitization of its government services for a long time. These things don’t happen overnight. It’s just that one hears about them and one feels like they must have done something in the last year or two. It’s a constant process of looking at what the right investments are to improve not only the quality of life of citizens, but to pivot the economy constantly to adapt to the new emerging industries of the fourth industrial revolution, for example.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:16:54] In Singapore, what we see is that there is a movement away from thinking about smart cities as just driven by technology. In fact, a few years ago, the Prime Minister said, we’re smart nation, and the difference is subtle but very important. In a smart nation, your focus is on the citizens. Their sustainable lifestyle, their fitness levels, their health, their economic opportunities.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:17:25] If you go to some of the new districts that are coming up in Singapore, they’re extremely green. They are very low on transportation and much more pedestrian with walkways and cycles. But they’re full of high tech technology. The reason why there aren’t that many cars is because they will be autonomous vehicles and drone taxis. You can have mixed generation spaces so that the senior citizens are not far away, alone and lonely, but in fact, are completely integrated with the younger people, with the business district, with the innovation hubs because when they go home, they live in a smart home. Which is full of sensors that can pick up if they have slept or if they’ve missed their medication or anything like that.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:18:17] These are the kinds of small tweaks, they seem small but on the surface, it just seems like it’s a happy village with a lot of harmony between different cultures and minorities. But beneath it all it’s powered by a lot of tech. For example, as I was pointing out earlier, a lot of the new buildings that are coming up not only have to be green because of the green plan in Singapore, but they have to be prefabricated, which greatly improves their carbon footprint.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:18:51] What I like about the way Singapore does a smart city is not just about technology at all. It’s actually created by interdisciplinary teams and their focus is citizen centricity. They even have a chat bot or an application that’s every citizen’s personal AI assistant. The idea is, instead of going from one government agency to another, an assistant will guide you. Oh, you just had a baby, don’t forget your immunizations or I see that your father’s at this age, he’s eligible for these kind of subsidies and grants. It just is one door to everything you need to engage with the government so that you are free over time to really amplify your own potential.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:19:36] This is made possible by an app called Moments of Life (now Life SG). The way they have built this app, this personal assistant to citizens, took a long time. They tested it with the citizens, then they tested it with the parents and they tested it with senior citizens and they rolled it out. So you can see it’s a multi-year process and it’s constantly getting very agile in a Silicon Valley way, receiving feedback from citizens to improve. That is what I love about the way they do it here.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:20:04] Have there been any breaches in data?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:20:08] There have been for some private companies, and that has been taken extremely seriously with heavy fines associated with it. There has been a lot of talk about it. There is no concept in Singapore that technology does not require governance. So, a lot of what the different government agencies do is think about guidelines. They even have subsidised AI ethics certifications for product managers and they have a whole slew of guidelines and processes and tools and education that is subsidized to nudge the entire economy towards better use of these technologies.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:20:48] They are very careful. Even if it’s autonomous vehicles, they’re very careful. They’re looking for standards, they’re pushing international standards. Governance is a very positive word. It’s not what some people think is stifling innovation. If anything, it sets you free to innovate within low risk boundaries and their sandbox is available. They’re always engaging with the global community. They went to the World Economic Forum and they presented guidelines on how to use artificial intelligence at Davos. They will do the same for 5G. They will do the same for Quantum. They will continue to always look both at the potential of a technology and they will always look at how to mitigate its downside.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:21:37] As we are talking about guidelines and overseeing the growth of exponential technologies, could you talk a little bit of the Hybrid Reality Institute? Then after that, talk to us of your work in Singapore within the area of AI and smart cities and smart nations?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:21:57] Absolutely. So I started the Hybrid Reality Institute and it was only around for four years. A long time ago when I was in New York, my husband and I started it because he comes from the discipline of geopolitics, diplomacy and political science, and I came from software engineering, applied math and statistics. We realized that exponential technology is affecting every single person and every single industry. What we wanted to do was gather the best minds that are thinking about it.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:22:38] So we set up a virtual institute and we had a bunch of fellows and they started writing and thinking about what is the future of education, what is the future of virtual reality and human relationships, what is the future of social robotics? That was such a joyful time for us. It was so meaningful. There was so many debates we would have and we would have a salon every month in New York where we would just debate these things. We’d discuss genetics, you know, like gene editing, what are the benefits for disease detection and disease prevention, but also what are the implications of editing embryos and babies? And does it mean we’re entering into an area of eugenics? It was always about looking at both sides.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:23:24] After we came to Singapore, I had to wrap it up because I was finishing my PhD, which is in smart cities. Then I had to think about how I could really move beyond just thinking about it to solving problems. That’s when I set up ADDO AI with my co-founder and we are very focused on helping large companies organize their data. Everybody sitting on a goldmine doesn’t know where to start. They don’t know how to do it. So moving both structured and unstructured data into the new data warehouses which are called data lakes, extracting the information according to business priorities so that you can automate the processes and optimize the services. You can entirely think of new kinds of products because now you have insights into your customer and behaviors. A lot of what we do is that and we have some of the largest telecommunications companies, financial services and logistics companies as our clients.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:24:24] I think that The Economist when speaking about data have said it’s the new oil in terms of a resource and I know that you have that quote on your website. Could you now talk about your work within Singapore.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:24:44] Yeah, so I do two things in Singapore. I run my company, the headquarters are here, but I also have a charity called 21C Girls (21st Century Girls), and my passion has always been to have more girls in tech because there has been a cultural bias. Especially in computer science and engineering, where there’s this ridiculous perception that women and girls are not as good as boys, and I wanted to shatter that myth by giving girls the opportunity to learn in a nurturing and safe environment. So we started teaching girls coding and we’ve taught thousands of girls through partnerships with Google and the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

21 C GIRLS. Credit: 21 C GIRLS.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:25:29] We have also partnered with the NGEE ANN Polytechnic, which is one of the largest in the country, to teach girls the techniques of AI. They have to code it, they have to learn it, and then they have to work on a project and think about how they would solve a business problem with that and do it in an ethical manner. This has been such a pleasure for me because these girls come away from this program and they have incredible self-confidence after this. I truly believe you don’t need to become a coder. You don’t need to become a data scientist, but you will need to work with one because every product and service will have that technology embedded in it. So, you don’t want to shrink back. You want to have the confidence to debate, innovate, argue and collaborate with people who are in this field, and you need to have the confidence to use AI and stand on its shoulders in a responsible manner. That has been a great joy and continues to be in my work in Singapore.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:26:32] Do you work with the Singapore government?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:26:37] I’m on the board of a couple of government agencies and I hope to contribute some of the things that I’ve learned in making decisions to set up the digital economy or to have a culture of health and fitness in the country or in terms of an educational polytechnic to have the ability to really position themselves for the fourth industrial revolution. I’ve been very lucky to be invited to support this, but I have to say that the real work is done by the incredible teams that make up these agencies and polytechnics.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:27:15] Could you talk of the broad spectrum of clients you have from banks right the way through to, I believe, the sports industry.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:27:26] So we are focused on about four or five industries, and the reason we can have such diversity is because we are not domain specialists as much as we are data and AI niche specialists. That’s a very specific skill that we build to a very growing demand that we see in the global economy.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:27:48] We have telecommunications, we have financial services, which includes banks and insurance companies. We have logistics and transport companies. And finally, we’re moving into the area of health care, which is a demand that new clients have come to us and asked us for help, given the pandemic. It’s really accelerated the need to have better operational efficiency and also personalized patient journeys so that you can have better patient outcomes cost effectively.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:28:19] You have a book coming up in 2022, U+AI. Can you tell us about that?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:28:27] After a lot of conferences and panels that I’m on, people usually come to me, they don’t ask about trends, they don’t ask about any macro trend or any industry, they ask about themselves. They say that was interesting, but what about me? What about my kids? What about my job? How should I be thinking about this? I think it’s really important. It’s an important question for each one of us. Human agency in an age of AI, which is what this book U+AI is about.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:29:01] It means that you are able to adjust and adapt to this age when artificial intelligence is becoming ubiquitous and instead of being afraid or waiting for it to distract you, you’re aware of what’s happening, you’re able to use it to your own benefit, and you are aware as a consumer to set boundaries between yourself and the companies that use AI and your data.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:29:25] That requires some basic knowledge. So, the idea is to build that self-awareness and to increase and amplify human agency in this age where we have this hybrid reality, where technology is literally embedded in our physical space all around us.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:29:44] At the moment, we’re going through this horrendous global pandemic. Although prior to the pandemic there were people like Bill Gates who foresaw that this was on its way. What do you think the future holds for smart cities and smart nations? And how do you think this ongoing pandemic, sadly, I can’t put it into the past tense yet, affects plans for smart cities and smart nations?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:30:22] The pandemic has accelerated the desire for digitization in both companies and cities. If anything, this push to digitize and make services accessible in the digital infrastructure and digital layer will reduce the bureaucracy and friction that we often see in cities.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:30:43] For example, we’re going to start working with a large country in Asia to develop a health crisis infrastructure. Which means that if there’s ever another pandemic, God forbid, or any other crisis, they will be connected to all the hospitals, the clinics, the pharmacies, and they will be able to connect to this data and predict where the new hotspot would be so that they can have localized lockdowns. They will be able to very rapidly respond to spikes in infections by increasing the number of doctors in the area and the medications that they send to a place. They will be able to monitor an emergency response, like vaccine efficacy, to the central crisis management hub. Now, that’s a smart city hub for the health agency, but nobody was motivated to do it as much as they are now. So unfortunately, we have had to go through this terrible crisis, but hopefully next time we will be better prepared.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:31:49] At this point in the show, we ask interviewees with whom they’ve connected with richly during the course of their lives and careers to move their lives and careers forward. Who have you connected with richly?

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:32:04] I think that people who really changed me were my mid-career PhD supervisors. I think that was very important to me because at that point, I had done my undergraduate and my master’s. I was very enthralled by technology. I was reading all these books about it, but I had a very unbalanced approach to it, a naive approach to it and was going into my PhD really taking a break and delving into the information systems theory. The scholars who had written about the impact of technology on society and understanding those frameworks guided by my supervisors that fundamentally changed me, made me a clearer thinker, a more balanced thinker, a more critical thinker.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:32:55] We lose that sometimes. We really do. Whether we are bankers or technologists or marketing people, we somehow lose the ability to be deeply humane and to also be deeply critical of what we’re doing, to question it. It was just pure generosity of spirit. We would have these conversations with other students after class and there was such a desire to communicate and to inform and to guide students. I find that just so inspiring. I think part of the reason I started my charity, 21C Girls, was also to bring that spirit that I had benefited from to the students, the young girls in Singapore.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:33:53] Dr. Ayesha Khanna, thank you very much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you and thank you for moving the human story forward.

Dr. Ayesha Khanna Co-founder and CEO ADDO AI: [00:34:03] Thank you so much for having me on this podcast.

Andrea Macdonald, founder, ideaXme: [00:34:08] You’re welcome.

If you enjoyed this interview check out our recent interview with Pia Puolakka about managing and rehabilitating prisoners in Smart Prisons.

Credit: Andrea Macdonald founder of ideaXme.

Andrea Macdonald, founder ideaXme

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