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From science fiction to real-life non-fiction

From science fiction to real-life non-fiction

  • April 2022
  • By Timothy Seah
  • 15 mins read

Timothy Seah, 33, received the OCBC Postgraduate AI Scholarship and graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with a Master of Computing in Artificial Intelligence in May 2021. He joined the Bank’s AI (Artificial Intelligence) Lab in the same year as a Data Scientist. His life’s simple pleasures are the occasional computer gaming sessions and watching corgis do silly things on YouTube.

Hi, I’m Timothy. I joined OCBC Bank’s AI Lab right after I graduated from NUS under the OCBC Postgraduate AI Scholarship scheme in 2021.

I’ve been a major fan of science fiction for a long time (Dune was one of my favourites, and I would totally recommend the movie!) I’ve seen numerous thought-provoking shows about AI being woven into the fabric of society, transforming governments and revolutionising organisations. Hence, it’s a dream job to be a Data Scientist in the field of AI. But what I’m doing is not science fiction but reality!

Mid-career switch from robotics to AI

Before I received the OCBC Postgraduate AI Scholarship, I was already working in the tech industry but in the field of robotics. However, I was keen to switch my focus from robotics to AI, and this scholarship allowed me to do so. By the time I graduated with the Master of Computing in Artificial Intelligence, I was already 33 years of age.

I’m super grateful that OCBC Bank was willing to invest in mid-career workers like myself by offering me a chance to make the switch to AI. And as part of AI Lab, I’m adapting fast! As OCBC is fully committed to AI and its application in banking, I’m totally charged up to be part of the team that implements practical, secure and ground-breaking AI solutions for the Bank and our customers. I’m inspired daily as I learn about AI and get to be involved in making improvements in the banking space.

Fully committing to the application process

Like the other applicants, as part of the AI Scholarship application process, I was given 24 hours to prototype solutions to a machine learning problem. I was determined to make the most of the opportunity so I took time off from work instead of pulling an all-nighter. Getting the scholarship was so important to me that I put in my full effort and commitment. I took no half measures when applying for the scholarship.

Advice for applicants

For those who are keen on AI, don’t worry that you are not already an expert. You will learn everything about AI and more during your postgraduate study. Instead, I’d advise applicants to first learn as much as possible about the postgraduate courses offered under the OCBC Postgraduate AI Scholarship and select the combination of subjects that best aligns with your career aspirations and development plans.

I would also advise applicants to throw out any preconceived notions that they may have about AI. It is a very broad field and growing daily. What may not be obvious today may be a key field for AI in the future. As we apply AI on an ongoing basis, we constantly discover new applications. Even before applying, try to keep on top of the technology. Keep asking yourself which aspects of AI may be most useful to the Bank in line with the Bank’s operations and aspirations.

Settling in at OCBC AI Lab

Although I joined the AI Lab in the midst of the pandemic, settling in was easy. In any case, I feel the hybrid work arrangement makes a lot of sense for data scientists. We don’t have to be together in a physical location all the time.

Other than that, my colleagues are nice and we get along very well. The added bonus is that because my team is small, I regularly receive 1-to-1 mentoring! Nothing like downloading real-life intelligence on artificial intelligence!

Working with BERT

It’s rewarding to apply what I learned in school in real life. For example, in July this year, Group Operations and Technology held a Basics to Banking course in which representatives from various departments gave us an overview of their operational processes. As a newcomer to the banking industry, it was eye-opening to learn about the systems that keep a bank running. It also gave me ideas on how AI can be used to improve the Bank’s systems and processes.

I’m currently working on a project that uses the latest in Natural Language Processing—a model called BERT—to characterise public news about our corporate borrowers. Thankfully, this was one of the modules I studied in my postgraduate course and it came in really handy.

Human intelligence for artificial intelligence

AI is a useful tool for dealing with big data, but it needs a human to interpret and attach meaning to its results. Therefore, always bear in mind how the data was generated from the Bank’s processes and what it represents. If need be, consult the domain experts.

Real human intelligence is needed to effectively apply artificial intelligence!