Aerial view of Sungai Kebun Bridge with the water village at Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam. night shot

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Brunei AI hackathon shows potential for building a 4IR-ready workforce

  • The hackathon engaged AI industry insiders to mentor young Brunei students and nurture their AI ideas from concept to presentation

Tiny Southeast Asian nation Brunei might not be the first place to spring to mind when one thinks of an artificial intelligence (AI) hub, but the country is preparing for an intelligent future, having just completed the first-ever Teens in AI Brunei pilot hackathon.

Organized by Acorn Aspirations, the Teens in AI initiative aims to inspire the next generation of AI researchers, entrepreneurs, and leaders. The program provides young people early exposure to AI, as well as supplying a platform for teenagers to explore more about AI, machine learning, and data science.

Teens in AI organizes accelerators, expert mentoring, talks, and company tours among other activities to engage youth, but in Brunei, an AI-oriented virtual hackathon was introduced. 53 youths from ten schools were selected to form teams and develop their own AI-generated solutions that would tackle a highlighted issue from the United National Sustainable Development Goals: either mental health, unemployment, or financial literacy.

The 10 teams underwent eight days of virtual workshops covering design, coding and AI, with at least two teachers and a selection of industry professionals as mentors to guide the teams towards developing their ideas and skills into fully-fledged, practical solutions.

Teams were required to complete proposals on their concept, and winners were judged based on three-minute presentations across several metrics including innovativeness, technical complexity, social impact, and notably, commercial viability.

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Congratulations to @teensinai.brunei ‘s AI for Good Hackathon top 3 winners! 🥇Winner: Mind Space (An app which aims to match and provide exciting activities to help youths cope with their emotions) Prize: – Cash prize of $1000 – Internship opportunity at Legimus – Mentorship session with @elenasinel_ 🥈Balmy (Project helps to provide a long term coping mechanism and help overcome an individual’s struggle) Prize: – Cash prize of $750 – Internship opportunity at Legimus – Mentorship session with @elenasinel_ 🥉Little Bankers (An app that assists young generations to manage and organize their budget) Prize: – Cash prize of $500 – Internship opportunity at Legimus – Mentorship session with @elenasinel_ 📸: @bizbrunei #teensinaibrunei #teensinai #teensinai2020 #aiforgoodhackathon

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This last criterion could be a critical assessment tool, as it requires the students to think holistically when working on their application, not just developing a technically-sound solution but also thinking about how the solution can be brought to market.

This sort of critical thinking can lay the foundational building blocks that not only get school-going young people interested in working with potentially transformational technologies like artificial intelligence but also in possibly becoming future members of Brunei’s fledgling AI ecosystem.

The winning solution was mental health smartphone application Mindspace, which uses AI to generate suggestions to help manage the user’s stress levels, helping them cope with their mental health in the process. One of the judges, Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) Digitalisation Manager and Technology Lead Sofiah Umar, noted that the winning concept captured the complex issue of how to manage emotions by offering pragmatic solutions.

“We feel that being able to manage your emotions is an important issue many face today; according to our survey of students, over 50% said they are unable to cope with (negative) emotions, and over 50% said they feel like sharing emotions makes them a burden to others,” said Mindspace team member Ammar Mohieldin.

Another mental health app Project Balmy came in second, while budgeting app Little Banker won third and B$500 for their proposal which helps teens monitor their allowance and spending habits, using a gamified mobile format.

The top three teams were also awarded internships at Legimus, and mentorship with the founder and CEO of Teens in AI, Elena Sinel. This event was the first of several “AI For Good” initiatives planned under the Teens in AI Brunei program that will continue into 2021.

The top 20 solutions will be selected from the final hackathon next year, and these students will continue to develop their projects for another two months. With input from their mentors and incentives to complete their AI projects, some proposals might even make it to the commercial stage.

Brunei’s Second Finance and Economy Minister, Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah, said that the objectives of Teens in AI Brunei align with the country’s overall aspirations, of cultivating a workforce and industry ecosystem that meets the demands of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

“By building a future-ready workforce, we can then begin to see more companies and organizations utilizing AI and technology to advance humanity – creating apps, devices and other technology that help keep us safe and make our lives better,” said Dato Seri Amin, who is also the chairman of co-organizer Brunei by Darussalam Enterprise (DARe).