SUTD developing design-AI degree

Future of university will bring tech, design to specific sectors to drive progress: Minister

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung (centre) watching a dance performance during the Singapore University of Technology and Design's 10th anniversary celebration yesterday.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung (centre) watching a dance performance during the Singapore University of Technology and Design's 10th anniversary celebration yesterday. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) is developing a new bachelor's degree in design and artificial intelligence (AI).

The announcement was made by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday at SUTD's 10th anniversary celebration.

Expected to be rolled out next year with an intake of about 50 students, the 31/2-year degree programme will focus on the integration of design and AI.

The degree will be the first of its kind here, according to SUTD president Chong Tow Chong.

"For this digital era, data is going to be the currency. AI and machine learning will be the necessary tools to capitalise on. There will be a new generation of designers that will utilise AI in many ways such as increasing efficiency," said Professor Chong.

For example, a product designer can key in certain parameters into a computer, and the AI will be able to produce a first draft of the product, said Prof Chong.

Besides the new degree, Mr Ong said, the future of SUTD will bring the concept of technology and design to specific sectors to drive further growth and progress.

He cited SUTD's partnership with Duke-NUS Medical School as an example, where a special track exposes medical students to interdisciplinary learning through a foundation in engineering or architecture.

Mr Ong said: "SUTD recently signed an agreement with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to set up an aviation studies institute focusing on research into air traffic management, economics and emerging aviation technologies.

"If we examine today and visit Terminal 4 and Jewel, we will notice that these are not just engineering feats but crucibles of innovation."

He added that SUTD is working towards contributing to the development of Terminal 5 by actively test-bedding ideas and creating prototypes.

Since 2015, four batches comprising 1,145 students have graduated from the university. Around 450 students are enrolled this year, with 40 per cent of them women.

Despite being only a decade old, SUTD was ranked as the fifth-most influential scientific research institution in telecommunications by Clarivate Analytics in 2017.

On an individual level, students have also achieved great heights.

Last year, 94 per cent of SUTD's fresh graduates found employment within six months, while pioneer graduate Ken Chua was listed as one of this year's Forbes 30 Under 30 Asian social entrepreneurs.

Mr Chua, 28, founded a design agency to work with companies on building inclusive products for people with disabilities. Together with Grab, it developed in-app features to simplify the ride-hailing process for deaf and visually impaired users.

Founded in 2009, SUTD is the fourth autonomous university in Singapore. Throughout its development, it has collaborated extensively with the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with more than 90 per cent of SUTD's undergraduate curriculum originally developed by the American university.

Mr Zach Ang, 22, a second-year engineering systems and design student, said he was drawn to SUTD's hands-on and interactive learning as opposed to studies in traditional universities.

"I don't regret coming to SUTD. Other than having hands-on learning and smaller class sizes, the students are very helpful to one another.

"Sometimes I struggle with coding, and I would be way behind if my friends did not help me."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2019, with the headline SUTD developing design-AI degree. Subscribe