Data is the new oil

As one of Malaysia’s premier centre of higher education, Artificial Intelligence is at the forefront of our research efforts

Technology has increased the amount of data that we have access to, and today, they are not just mere information anymore; they can be used for the betterment of our lives in many ways.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one such area where machines are fed with data which then enables them to make large-scale decisions which are virtually impossible to be made by the human mind.

A recent Financial Times article says ‘data is the new oil’ and reported that companies surveyed noted a 10% to 30% increase in return-on-investment (RoI) after having invested in AI.

Dr Alpha Agape Gopalai, Senior Lecturer, School of Engineering at Monash University Malaysia summed up AI by drawing parallels between AI and an intelligent black box.

“Imagine a black box that is fed with information. The black box then uses its intelligence to process the data to produce decisions or solutions that mimics a human expert,” he explained.

As one of Malaysia’s premier centre of higher education, AI is at the forefront of Monash University Malaysia’s research efforts.

Dr Abdus Samad Kamal, Senior Lecturer, School of Engineering at Monash University Malaysia, works extensively with industry partners in incorporating AI to improve work processes and the quality of products.

Dr Kamal, who currently works on the use of AI in the production of corrugated boxes, shed light on the challenges faced by the box making industry and the solutions that he and his team are working on.

The complexity of the process of making corrugated boxes arises due to the size of the box, the mass manufacturing process and the labelling which involves inks.

“Some of the sheets are two metre or three metres in size. The problem we face in the process of having a corrugated sheet is that you need the perfect temperature to ensure adequate levels of moisture in the production line which ranges from 50 metres to 100 metres.

He added that based on the survey conducted by his students, this is an industry-wide problem.

“We propose, instead of a human, to install a system that is able to detect minor changes in colour, that would alert us so that we can adjust the density of the ink,” he added.

“As hundreds of sheets are being printed, the water content goes down, changing the ink density and the quality of the print” Associate Professor Edwin Tan Chee Pin, Discipline Head (Mechatronics) School of Engineering, Monash University Malaysia, elucidated further.

These subtle changes are nigh on impossible to be spotted by humans, yet a tiny slip-up comes at a great cost for the manufacturer.

“If the customer spots one mistake, the whole batch can be rejected,” revealed A/Prof Tan of the perils of slim margins.

The role of AI in the rise of automation is one that is highly publicised. Driverless cars are being rolled out in droves in western countries, and are being put to use by e-hailing services.

Dr Madhavan Shanmugavel, Lecturer at the School of Engineering, has been involved in a long-standing working relationship with Recogine Technology Sdn Bhd, an organisation specialising in intelligent transportation systems. They are currently jointly developing a traffic system to monitor, count and classify vehicles based on make, size, shape, for various weather conditions where visibility may be affected. Information from different sensors are fused together with images obtained from the cameras in order to correctly classify the vehicles.

Meanwhile Dr Alpha currently works on designing a smart shoe that is aimed at reducing injuries by monitoring our walking patterns.

“We want to predict injuries/abnormalities is walking at a very early stage. When a person is seen to limp the extent of an injury could be at an advanced stage. However, when an injury is just beginning to set in, the human body compensates by altering the walking patterns Using these subtleties, together with artificial intelligence, we will be able to detect injuries and abnormalities early on,” said Dr Alpha.

Although the scope for growth in AI is infinite, it runs in parallel with the increase in computer speed.

“The potential application of AI increases with advances in computing technology. When Facebook first reached us some 10 years ago, we had to manually tag the faces in photos we uploaded. Now through application of artificial intelligence Facebook is not only able to tell you how many people are in the picture, but also provide an accurate suggestion as to who that individual may be.From here on as computers advance you will also see AI advancing alongside,” he stressed.

Fears that AI will result in loss of jobs is often used by its detractors. Industry leaders however continuously stress that AI is also crucial in developing a more skilled workforce.

“As we strive to move towards a developed nation, we must seek to equip our workforce with skill sets to handle their jobs efficiently and intelligently. The aim is to mitigate the exposure of our workforce to the 3-Ds (Dangerous, Dull and Dirty). These measures improve the workplace environment and so the employees quality of life,” he explained.

A/Prof Tan acknowledges there will be loss of jobs, but says there are going to be a myriad of new jobs that will be created as well - to create, implement, monitor and troubleshoot these intelligent systems. Echoing Dr Alpha’s sentiment, A/Prof Tan believes AI will only work to the advantage of workers, as they will learn new skills preparing them for the fourth industrial revolution (4-IR). “The jobs created will be of higher value. Knowing the basics of programming will be very useful,” he added.

AI is offered as an elective for fourth-year students of the Mechatronics Engineering and Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering programs in Monash University Malaysia.

AI is popular especially among Mechatronic Engineering students. “Mechatronics engineering students build things that are supposed to function autonomously (without human intervention), and this is where the AI plays its role in creating autonomous devices,” he said.

Monash University Malaysia’s strong partnerships with industries has ensured graduates face no shortage in job options. Students graduating from the Mechatronics Engineering program has consistently recorded a high employment rate within the first six months upon their completion.

For more information on engineering courses in Monash University Malaysia, please visit