Exclusive interview with Hsiang-Tsung Kung on AI & Medicine: Taiwan has the right time, the right place, and the right talents

Nov 20, 2020

The development of smart medicine under the Precision health industry is one of the “six core strategic industries” planned by the Executive Yuan. Dr. Hsiang-Tsung Kung, the principal of the Taiwan AI Academy, pointed out during the interview that "Taiwan has the right time, the right place, and the right people to develop smart medicine"

Kung is one of the most influential expert in the global information engineering community. His holds various distinguished titles, including Academician of Academia Sinica, William H. Gates Chair Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University, Academician of the National Academy of Engineering. His Systolic Array theory has prompted the advent of today’s AI accelerators. Since 1990, he has assisted in promoting the development of Taiwan’s telecommunications industry. In 2018, he established the Taiwan AI Academy by cooperating with experts from industry, academia, and research institutions. Some of its main missions are to build smart health care system and to promote smart medicine talents.

Kung had a video interview with MOST GASE to share about the challenges and advantages of Taiwan's development of smart medicine.

A comprehensive academy to nurture AI talents in Taiwan

Kung said that Taiwan is small and flexible with a complete industrial supply chain, well-developed information and communication industry, and close partnerships between industries, which are a major advantage to develop AI.

At present, companies from various industry intend to apply AI technologies in their products. Kung believes that there is a unique database integration model for each industry. One of the foundations of AI lies in big data. Taiwan’s market is small and the volume of database is not comparable to foreign companies; therefore, Taiwan must emphasize on technical quality in order to make an accurate analysis.

In recent years, Kung has dedicated himself in Taiwan’s AI talents cultivation. The Taiwan AI Academy was established to help the industry breakthrough the old framework. Until now, it has successfully trained more than 7,000 AI talents in Taiwan. The Taiwan AI Academy also cooperates with National Taiwan University Hospital, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Linkou and Kaohsiung to provide relevant training. Currently, there is a total of more than 1100 doctors trained, and the Academy is planning to cooperate with Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital in the coming year.

Taiwan’s major strengths: information communications and medicine

Kung said that Taiwan’s development of smart medicine is "a must" as technology and medicine are the two most powerful industries in Taiwan. The information and communications industry intend to enter the medical industry, and Taiwan’s doctors are highly enthusiastic about integrating AI technology. "Doctors in Taiwan have overwhelmed curiosity, and are keen to learn and develop interests in various fields. When Taiwan AI Academy opened medical classes, it attracted a large number of doctors to sign up. This is beyond our imagination and this phenomenon is different from the United States.” Kung said that being in Taiwan, with the right time, place, and people, has made his role as an educator so much easier.

So far, medical image recognition is more advanced in the development of smart medicine in Taiwan. Kung pointed out that there are still many challenges to overcome in the future, such as the application of health insurance database. A complete national health insurance database is a powerful backing for Taiwan’s development of smart medicine. However, impeded by regulations, it is difficult to obtain the information, and the application procedure is challenging, making private sectors and even academic research institutions unable to effectively use these data.

Nevertheless, with the worsen development of the outbreak of COVID-19 this year, the National Health Insurance Administration opened up its database and launched a value-added application to build a mask supply and demand information platform, which played a key role in the pandemic prevention. Kung believes that in the post-pandemic era, the government will accelerate the opening of data and expand its uses, which will be a great opportunity for the development of smart medicine.

Cross-disciplinary learning to counter AI challenges

Taiwan AI Academy has gradually gained its reputation internationally. Some foreign companies intend to send their employees to study in the Academy. Kung said that the cooperation with Southeast Asian countries was suspended due to the impact of COVID-19, but will resume after the pandemic stabilizes. He hopes that Taiwan can be a hub to promote two-way communications between business partners in Taiwan and Southeast Asia.

Kung believes that in the future, the industries that use computers the least will need AI the most. As artificial intelligence technology matures and evolves, it will become human’s technology assistant. Nowadays, many countries see the development of AI as one of their national priorities. The required skills of AI talents include engineering, statistics, mathematics, language, data processing, and other fields. Kung strongly encourages students to learn not only the basic skills but also to learn extensively and to enhance exchanges and cooperation in different professional fields in order to obtain a more comprehensive skillset.