Developing Future Tech Warriors
17 Jun 2019

More than 1,500 students from 30 schools gained insights into artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity at the inaugural BrainHack organised by DSTA from 13 to 14 June 2019. Students interested to deepen their knowledge in AI could choose to participate in the newly introduced Today I Learned (TIL) camp which focuses on AI technologies, or the annual Cyber Defenders Discovery Camp (CDDC) introduced in 2012. A Tech Showcase was also organised to cap off the students’ learning experience.

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Senior Minister of State for Defence Mr Heng Chee How presented prizes to the camp competition winners during the award ceremony on 14 June. He said: “DSTA, together with MINDEF, recognises the potential that AI and cybersecurity provide and are committed to developing these capabilities further. Through events like BrainHack, we hope to inspire talented individuals with a passion for technology to develop and hone your skills, and perhaps one day, contribute to enhancing existing capabilities as well.”

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DSTA Chief Executive Tan Peng Yam shared in his opening remarks that the CDDC had trained over 2,600 students over the past seven years. “We want BrainHack to be the springboard to nurture the next generation of ‘tech warriors’ for our defence and also to contribute to Singapore beyond defence,” he added.

The various BrainHack activities were set in a real-world context, to provide a good foundation for students to further pursue AI and cybersecurity in the future. The centrepiece of CDDC 2019 was a model replica of a Smart City which competition challenges were based on, to highlight the physical impact that cybersecurity can have on society. Participants were tasked to complete a mix of ‘Red team’ challenges which required them to actively detect and test vulnerabilities, and ‘Blue team’ challenges which focused more on analytical skills such as incident response, digital forensics or security risk auditing.

The Champion team in CDDC’s Uni/Poly category comprised a group of students who had taken part in online cyber competitions together. Calvin Fong from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) felt that the CDDC exposed them to a wide variety of challenges, such as the industrial control systems for power distribution simulated in the mini city model, which are not usually available online. His teammate Jackie Lee from the National University of Singapore (NUS) elaborated: “The [model city] infrastructure is a demo of how the real world could be simulated. But in the real world, there is more complex technology behind it. It gave us a preview on how we should better appreciate cybersecurity and enhance the protection of these systems.”

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Similarly, TIL 2019 was aligned with recent advancements in AI and deep learning. Computer vision concepts were introduced through the main competition challenge: training AI models to recognise and classify human poses in images. This technology could have applications in areas ranging from enhancing soldier health and fitness, to detecting anomalous behaviour for camp security.

To prepare participants in the concepts of data preparation and processing, AI upskilling workshops were conducted on 3 and 4 June at DSTA. Participants learnt to set up and train deep learning models and methods to improve the accuracy of image classification algorithms. They continued to refine their models with new datasets and techniques during the on-site competition.

Christabel Teo from NUS, who was part of the Champion team in the Uni/Poly category, was motivated to improve her skills and gain more knowledge on up-and-coming technologies after the camp. “My main takeaway from this competition was to keep an open mind, learn different things and also be on the lookout for new technologies. For example, we implemented a new model that was released just a few days before the competition, which helped to increase accuracy,” she said.

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Participants and students also got up close with a diverse range of cutting-edge technologies and applications at the Tech Showcase. Through their interactions with DSTA engineers and partners manning the booths, participants gained a better understanding of the close relationship between cybersecurity and AI, and even tried their hands in real-world applications through a unique gamified learning experience. To broaden their perspectives, participants also had the opportunity to attend talks to hear about their experiences and applications of AI beyond defence.

Check out more event highlights here!

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