Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) just a buzzword? Or is it an inexorable wave that is going to flow in the third decade of this millennium? 3,600 AI startups in more than 70 countries have raised $66B since 2013, according to CB Insights. As we enter 2020, let’s peek into the mind of a leader who is spearheading the next generation of technology that will change people’s lives.
I spoke to Tien Nguyen, the Chief Technological Officer (CTO) of TEKO, a Vietnamese E-commerce company. It aims to optimize supply chain infrastructure to efficiently bring products from manufacturers directly to consumers.
Tien is passionate about making people’s lives easier. He was born and brought up in Vietnam. Searching for a better career opportunity brought him all the way to Singapore from Hanoi. And within 8 years, he rose from a developer to become the CTO of Wego, an online travel search engine based in Singapore. A chance meeting with Thanh Binh Mai who was running Teko amongst other businesses in Vietnam impressed him to go back to his roots. Tien made up his mind to move to Hanoi and dedicate his time and energy for his passion; contributing to the Vietnamese startup ecosystem and making the lives of people easier.
So why this decision?
Tien was asking the ‘WHY’ question himself.
Why are Vietnamese people not enjoying the convenience of state-of-the-art technologies, while people in Singapore enjoy the perks of it?
This, in turn, resulted in several questions that he had never asked himself before. For example, “Why are Vietnamese people not enjoying the convenience of state-of-the-art technologies, while people in Singapore enjoy the perks of it?” That led to another question — “What’s the difference?”
There are many including ‘multiculturality’, ‘fiscal policy’, ‘unemployment rate’, but when you compare ‘governmental R&D expenditures’, Singapore spends more than $9 billion, more than 6 times that of Vietnam.
For Tien, therefore the mission was clear — increase the standard of technology in Vietnam and lower the gap between Vietnam and the developed countries in the coming decade through innovation.
How do you define Innovation?
Usually, when it comes to innovation, people think of new things or ideas that can generate changes in output, be it revenue or growth. As an entrepreneur, Tien thinks innovation is to “avoid possible problems we might face. Make quality of everyone’s life better, our employees, customers, whosoever.”
“Avoid possible problems we might face. Make quality of everyone’s life better, our employees, customers, whosoever.”
Could Artificial Intelligence (AI) do that?
If AI could do that, it is truly benefiting humans. I don’t think it can replace humans though. We have hearts whereas AI doesn’t. Even when we talk to each other, one is very sweet, another is cold, and everyone is so different. It’s okay to use it for simple tasks like free services. For services that need payments in eCommerce, probably not yet.
When it comes to career take-overs by machines (AIs), what do you imagine — a movie showing robots revolting over human beings?
AI is an additional value to whatever service, other than the substitution of the service. It is because a human has a heart whereas AI doesn’t. Emotions come from the heart. In turn, emotions bring sympathy, antipathy, a harmony of interests, and the construction of interpersonal relationships.There are plenty of things that require interactions and emotional bonds that only people can do.
Ideas of innovation and the mission unveiled. What’s left? Substantiation. TEKO was there for him to verify. Just simple steps. He joined the company, moved to Vietnam, created the team for advanced technology platforms, and started developing the system.
How’s the journey been so far at TEKO?
We came up with the payment system. Other parts of the world enjoy state-of-the-art payment systems such as those of Amazon in the USA and Tesco in the UK. The purchasing experience there is exquisite. Choose items, hold, and get out. Payments are automated, no wallet is needed, and it’s safe. Transactions are cashless. In Singapore, most supermarkets including Fairprice have self-checkout payment machines storewide. It’s becoming very common in countries like China, India, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea as well.
“You just need to scan QR Code, then the product will be delivered to your doorstep, and the payment is made immediately.” — Tien
In Vietnam, traditionally, it has been cash-based transactions. People visit shops, buy things, pay with cash, and carry the products all the way home. However, we have now developed a new method that allows customers to just scan the QR code through the app, and list out product recommendations based on their purchase history or even their interaction with the app. They will easily be able to choose the product they are buying. Everything is automated through the app: purchase, payment, and delivery.
What kind of Artificial Intelligence technology will be coming out in the coming five years?
Self-Driving Cars. The technology is there. The cost matters. We know that there already have been some self-driving cars running around. Take Singapore’s self-driving buses for tourists to look around Sentosa Islands. It’s already been running publically.
“The technology is there. The costs matter.”
Indeed, experiments have been run in the self-driving car technology since the 1930s. Decent improvements were made in the late 1970s, and I think the technology will be perfected by the year 2025. As everyone knows, for new technologies, the optimization of the cost-profit ratio is the crucial one. When the price gets affordable, it is the right time.
The time will come. But it’s not yet.