First BrainHack event incorporating AI and cyber security elements draws 1,500 students

Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How delivers a keynote address at the BrainHack award ceremony on June 14, 2019. PHOTO: DEFENCE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AGENCY

SINGAPORE - An annual cyber security youth camp has been expanded to include additional focus on artificial intelligence (AI), with more than 1,500 students from 30 schools taking part in the two-day event. The camp has been held yearly since 2012, but this is the first time it is held with the expanded format.

This comes as Singapore looks to develop AI tech leaders who can help Singapore maintain its technological edge in defence and security, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said on Friday (June 14).

Mr Heng was speaking at the award ceremony on the second day of the inaugural BrainHack organised by the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) at the Singapore Expo.

BrainHack comprised two camps, one which challenged students on artificial intelligence and the other on cyber security. Students from secondary schools to universities took part in teams of four, and each team could include students from different schools and ages.

The event also included a tech showcase displaying the latest technologies and applications.

Mr Heng said the DSTA and the Ministry of Defence recognise the potential that AI and cyber security provide, with BrainHack among the initiatives to further develop capabilities in these areas.

He said: "Through events like BrainHack, we hope to inspire talented individuals to follow in the footsteps of our defence engineers, and use your talents meaningfully for the greater good of Singapore."

(From left) Christabel Teo, Pye Sone Kyaw, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How, Wong Jun Long and Lim Chun Yong pose for a photo after the team came up tops in the AI segment of BrainHack. PHOTO: DEFENCE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AGENCY

He said AI can contribute significantly towards modern warfare by enabling military systems to handle large volumes of data more efficiently and sieving out insights from big data. It will also play a key role in upgrading Singapore's defence systems, he added.

On cyber security, Mr Heng said the country will increasingly need to guard against cyber attacks through which perpetrators seek to achieve goals such as gaining access to sensitive information.

"To protect our systems well against such perpetrators, we need to develop world-class capabilities, with the support of capable and committed individuals," he added.

About 270 students participated in a two-day workshop before BrainHack started, and were trained to set up AI models to address specific tasks. They were then challenged to include new data sets and improve their models during BrainHack.

Lim Chun Yong, 21, who is waiting to enter university, was part of the team of four that came out tops in the AI camp.

He said: "There was a lot of time pressure with a lot of things to do within the short time. They did not give us much information about the challenge, so it really simulated a real-world environment."

On the cyber security aspect of BrainHack, students were trained in fundamental techniques from May 8 to 28 through online lessons curated by the DSTA. About 470 students qualified for the on-site competition at BrainHack, where they raced to perform cyber security analyses of industrial systems that could be used to shut down power supply in a model Smart City.

Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student Calvin Fong, 18, who joined the competition with three others aged between 17 and 25, said his team had played in similar competitions online, but BrainHack provided a more industry-related challenge.

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