AI’s the new buzzword in Vietnamese tech space. Will it take off?

Human interaction with artificial intelligence | Photo: Bloomberg

Artificial intelligence (AI) can become a game changer for Vietnamese technology startups, say experts, as they are betting big on the potential to deploy chatbots and image recognition to deep learning in the country.

“AI can be integrated into many verticals because the ultimate purpose of AI is to assist, or even to replace, human efforts in doing things in a more effective way,” Nghiem Xuan Bach, project director at Cinnamon AI Lab, told DEALSTREETASIA.

Consider some of the recent developments in this space: Cyberagent Ventures-backed healthcare app ViCare is applying AI technology, with a chatbot to solve users’ queries. It is reportedly the first chatbot to be launched in Vietnam.

Users interact with the bot through Facebook Messenger to ask for information about clinic facilities, doctor identity and remedies, as ViCare claims to have a database of over 21,000 healthcare facilities and 22,000 doctors across the country.

In agritech, a Vietnamese-built product called Sero.ai helps untrained farmers detect crop abnormalities in advance via an AI imagery engine. It has become a portfolio company under the first cohort of Zeroth, the maiden AI accelerator for Asia.

Datanee provides customer clustering and recommendation services for CRM along with content analysis technology for content discovery. SMCC, a social media monitor, utilizes big data to produce reports on branding, market conditions and customer management, to its business customers.

Clearly, AI technology is poised to reshape the traditional modus operandi in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s AI play: It is just the beginning

Bach said: “Local engineers are strong in technology, therefore they should focus on the tech rather than on doing commercial startups. That is an advantage that will help Vietnam become competitive in the global tech scene.”

“Cinnamon AI Lab partners are interested in AI in Vietnam and see it as an intriguing opportunity,” Bach added.

While AI is clearly a big oppotunity to tap into, experts aver that Vietnamese startups need to focus on solving market problems rather than concentrating only on the technical side.

The development of AI technology in Vietnam is being impeded by the lack of understanding about solving customer problems because local engineers are focusing too much on the technical side, according to deliberations at a closed discussion among local developers that this DEALSTREETASIA correspondent attended.

The fledgling AI community in Vietnam should focus more on the integration of AI application to other industries to improve productivity, according to the participants.

Also, investments into AI can be very sporadic as there is fierce competition in deal sourcing as also scepticism about sustainability of business models.

The quest for sustainability

“Things like AI and machine learning are inevitable transformation tools. Unless Vietnam quickly starts to build talent and research system for new technologies, we won’t have enough time to absorb the advantages of the AI boom in Asia,” said Bach.

For sustainable growth of AI in the county, experts opined that the entire ecosystem – investors, universities, researchers and the government – need to come together to nurture students in this field and also handhold startups.

Among industry level initiatives, Cinnamon AI Lab, launched by Japanese angel investor Hajime Hotta, hopes to build a group of 100 AI developers by the end of 2017.

Among 250 students from Vietnam’s top tech schools that applied for a six-month training programme by Cinnamon AI Lab, nine are working on real projects.

The centre aims to be the AI incubator in Vietnam even though there are very few potential startups that can be housed under its umbrella.

In another development, Tokyo-based personalised AI developer Alt Inc hired Vietnamese science expert, Dr Nguyen Tuan Duc, to supervise the setting up of an AI research and development centre in Asia, to be based in Hanoi.

“With Dr Nguyen joining us, we will promptly set up AI R&D bases around Asia and accelerate the employment of researchers, AI engineers, data scientists and others. We expect our new team to have approximately 50 members to start with, and they will be dedicated to the development of Alt’s personalized AI,” the company said in a statement.

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