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Skymind has big plans for AI in ASEAN

Skymind Global Ventures’ $800m fund to tap artificial intelligence potential and talent includes focus on ASEAN’s AI ecosystem

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW ASEAN: CW ASEAN: Trend Watch on advances in Malaysia’s digital infrastructure

Following the opening of its London office in January this year, artificial intelligence (AI) technology incubator and investor Skymind Global Ventures (SGV) has announced an $800m fund to boost the AI ecosystems in Europe and Asia.

SGV co-founder and CEO Shawn Tan said the fund would be used to tap AI talent and develop the AI ecosystem, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia. “From talent to incubating innovative startups, this region just requires the tools and expertise to become a global AI hub,” he said.

According to Sudev Bangah, IDC’s managing director in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), 65% of enterprises in Asia-Pacific are introducing or have executed a pilot AI project in some shape or form within their organisation.

This also suggests much potential for grassroots innovation and small and medium-sized enterprises, said Tan, who detailed who and what Skymind is today.

Skymind’s rise

Adam Gibson, the co-creator of the open source Deeplearning4j deep learning programming library, co-founded US-based Skymind Inc at the end of 2014 to provide support and consultation services around the project, and to build custom AI solutions.

Following investments from Tencent and other tech companies, Skymind Inc started the Hong Kong-based joint venture Skymind AI in 2016 to address the Asian market. SGV was started around the same time.

But in late 2019, Skymind Inc rebranded itself to Pathmind, pivoting away from supporting the Deeplearning4j open source community. This prompted Gibson to take up the vice-president position at SGV, which Tan said remains committed to the Deeplearning4j ecosystem.

Gibson also manages SGV’s software division, Konduit, which delivers and supports Deeplearning4j for enterprises, as well as training development.

“We are already the de facto deep learning framework for Java,” said Gibson, “and we plan to expand our mission into lower-level software, allowing AI to be used on any chip or platform.”

Open innovation and talent

Tan said SGV’s approach to AI was different from that of other players in that the firm provides both the technology and strategy to help companies build their own artificial intelligence applications.

“Asia is emerging as a force that can compete with the largely American-dominated software industry. With this competition, consumers will have more choices in a more robust market in the long term”
Shawn Tan, Skymind Global Ventures

In addition, Tan said SGV’s engineering team was very agile, and that its remote style of working enabled it to hire people from anywhere in the world without having to compete for talent as others do.

SGV also sources talent from the open source community with whom it can work before employing them. “Our open source way allows us to grow a user base we can hire, along with an ecosystem of customers and partners we can assist to support various AI use cases,” said Tan.

“Our decentralised and neutral headquarters means we can provide a global AI standard to companies and governments,” he added.“AI is very important for every nation and it will be important, over time, that AI stays neutral rather than just being monopolised by only one or two superpowers.”

A Malaysian, Tan has high hopes for the country’s digitisation efforts, with industry observers expecting AI developments to grow in tandem with Malaysia’s 5G roll-out this year.

Last December, Skymind AI signed an agreement with Huawei to develop a cloud and AI innovation hub in ASEAN, starting in Malaysia and Indonesia.

“Malaysia has a lot of untapped potential to build AI talent and an AI ecosystem. SGV will use its London base to back research and development and generate business opportunities in Asia,” said Tan.

“Asia is emerging as a force that can compete with the largely American-dominated software industry. With this competition, consumers will have more choices in a more robust market in the long term.”

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