We thank Ms. Annabelle Kwok very much for agreeing to dedicate this interview to us despite her busy schedule. Mrs. Annabelle Kwok, well known worldwide, who has managed to create two startups in Singapore in the field of artificial intelligence. Leader Annabelle is currently 26 years old. At the age of 22, she managed to raise millions of dollars in funds for these two startups.
Annabelle Kwok – Singapour
1- When you were just 26 years old, you have already founded 2 artificial intelligence startups (NeuralBay and SmartCow). How do you see yourself in the future? Would you prefer to continue as a startup founder, to settle in a full-time position as a manager of a large company or instead join one of the internet giants that operate in AI like Google?
I don’t know. Technology moves at an unforgiving pace and you can’t be too certain where you will be in the next 5 or 10 years. I tend to make decisions with my heart, so whatever role I undertake in the future, it will surely be another job that opens up opportunities for me to use my knowledge and skills for social good.
2- Given that you are a strong supporter of building an inclusive digital society, how should we ensure in your opinion a good governance of the new digital economy in order to bridge the technological gap at a global scale?
This is a tough question to answer because individuals, corporations, and governments have differing perspectives on what encompasses a good governance structure. Even amongst individuals, there are different levels of understanding of technology and hence, different levels of comfortability with data privacy and different types of data concerns. The world has yet to come to a consensus on what is a standard governance model to implement and I don’t have an answer to it either. For now, I just hope that we will not become so obsessed with technological progress that we have forgotten how to be inclusive.
3- Could you tell us more about the measures undertaken by the government of your country Singapore to encourage innovation and the creation of startups?
Singapore uses a collaborative model where the government leverages on the growth of the private sector to elevate the overall A.I. standard for the country. It does so by crafting favourable policies and extending grants to encourage startups and entice companies to set up their headquarters here. In the 2015 Plan, the government budgeted $16 billion to fund research, innovation and enterprise efforts, and in the 2020 plan, another $19 billion will go into funding such efforts over the next 5 years.
4- Besides your studies in mathematics and computer science, you enjoy sports and traveling. Did these disciplines and hobbies helped you overcome the challenges you faced in your life?
Not challenges per say – the lessons I had learnt through these hobbies have translated into many aspects of my life. For example, when I go for my 15km morning runs, I have to constantly tell myself to pace myself. Similarly, startup founders tend to get burnt out very early on, but running a company is not a sprint and more like a long distance run. Also, in sports you need to know when you can push yourself further and when you have to stop if not you get injured. Training such self-awareness cuts through all aspects of life, whether i am working or not.
5- At the age of 22, you have met the US President Barack Obama as a leader in innovation. Could you tell us more how you were given such an opportunity? How did live this exciting experience?
I got to meet Obama for the first time after joining the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative. I met him again in January this year – together with 20 other youths, we helped the Obama Foundation design workshops for the Asia Pacific region. https://www.obama.org/updates/meet-leaders-design-workshop/
6- how do you envision the future with the increasing integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into the business world and our daily life?
As humans, I think we will still try to push ourselves to make the most of our time and that probably means that we will work harder and play harder. Change will be the new constant, so we will have to continuously re-skill ourselves to ensure that we stay relevant in this fast-paced society.
7- Given your significant experience in artificial intelligence, could you tell us what are the regulations and ethics that should be considered for AI?
8- As LTE magazine is widely read in Africa, what advice would you give to young Africans who want to create successful startups? what would you recommend to the governments of African countries?
Do not forget the reason why you created your startup. More often than not, you will find yourself running from deadline to deadline and it is easy to lose sight of what matters the most – for me, NeuralBay is, and will always be, a vehicle to do social good through technology.
9- Certainly when we succeed in our projects we also think about the meaning of our existence. Could you tell us more about the meaning that you gave to your existence?
I’m not sure if I will ever find the answer to the meaning of life, and honestly, it does not bother me. For me, life is all about values such as honesty, humility and respect. It is about how you choose to conduct yourself as a person, and what you share with the world.
(*) Interview conducted in English by Ahmed Khaouja