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Human-centric outcomes through “dojo-style” innovation

22nd November 2021

As the world entered a new millennium in 2000, thankful that a widely feared computer bug had failed to emerge, there was much hope and optimism with technology’s promises for the future.

The Internet was flourishing, adding new capabilities to work and play, connecting people across geographies and creating digital lives that were not possible before.

Technology also boosted productivity and grew economies, including Singapore’s. It has created a greater quality of life as incomes grew for many countries that embraced innovation.

While digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and the Internet of Things are critical to Singapore and elsewhere today, the way they are perceived now is markedly different. 

Many of today’s technologies bring negative externalities that are a growing concern.

For example, artificial intelligence (AI) is often presented as a black box, where there is little accounting and explanation for how algorithms arrive at a solution.

It has also been difficult to replicate relationships that humans have built over the years. Patrolling robots, for example, can appear impersonal to residents, unlike familiar police officers at neighbourhood police posts.

Perhaps no other example of technology’s impact is clearer than that of data centres, which enable the world’s digital transactions all the time, day and night. Even before the pandemic, they emitted as much carbon dioxide as the airline industry.

All this calls for a rethink of the relationships that societies have with technology and innovation. Even as they rapidly transform and reap many of the fruits of automation, intelligence and data analysis, the goal must be to develop a higher quality of life that is centred on human growth and happiness.

Japan’s Society 5.0 goal, for example, brings a human-centric approach to adopting next-generation technologies such as 5G, smart city technologies, face recognition and sensor networks.

Key to this approach is sustainability. Not just in terms of reversing climate change, which is critical, but also placing an emphasis on important sustainable development goals such as fairness and social justice.

AI and face recognition, in this instance, would be employed to enable citizens to easily pay for items in a contactless manner, by simply “scanning” their faces at a cashier. It would be set up in a way that respects and protects their right to privacy.

Similarly, smart sensor technology can be deployed to enable the elderly to be more independent, especially in countries with a greying population.

Indeed, there is a need to chart a future where humans are placed at the centre of any technology advance.

This is why NEC is forming the NEC APAC Future Academy (NFA), which will bring together leaders across various industries, academia and government to find better ways to harness technology in a positive manner.

Drawing on global expertise and experience in areas such as AI, the academy will not just build capabilities but also enable the various stakeholders to develop solutions that make a real difference. With AI, the academy will have access to 1,800 AI researchers and data scientists across NEC labs around the globe, making it the local hub for building an immersive, cross-domain knowledge base with the focus on new talent development in the AI/data science and urban sustainability domains.

NFA is also a way to experiment for both NEC and our strategic customers. It enables us to explore new ideas and validate or remodel them through real-life trials and forum discussions.

The NFA will test various hypotheses on how Singapore’s transformation can help craft a unique Society 5.0 vision, one where we transcend our workplace culture and leverage our creativity to build technologies that drive digitalisation.

The idea is to spur a robust discussion and test out various hypotheses in a “dojo” format, where these various entities can come together to create new outcomes in an agile fashion.

These could range from workshops to new projects that radically transform how technologies are applied to benefit societies across the world.

The academy features the three pillars of developing human-centric design capabilities, incubating future innovations and advancing global research collaboration. It aims to develop competencies and capabilities and drive transformational change through the innovation dojo, where safe experimentation can be carried out.

More importantly, the NFA won’t be trying to do everything itself. Certainly, with the complex challenges facing the world today, it takes multiple viewpoints and ideas to find  solutions that bring a more sustainable way forward a reality.

For more information, contact us at

Head, NEC APAC Future Academy

Paul is current heading the NEC APAC Future Academy as well as Country Business Development.  He had held various senior positions within the NEC organization, including as ex-CTO of the NEC Global Safety Division.  Prior to re-joining NEC last year, Paul was involved in two start-up companies focusing on public safety and healthcare.  Being an active member in the industry innovation eco-system, he is a strong advocate of innovation interplay: weaving industry best practices and deep technology development to achieve superior outcome.  The launch of the innovation dojo in NEC Asia Pacific is an ideal “training ground” to invoke future imaginations for NEC’s strategic development.

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