Interview of Dr Heman Mohabeer, winner of the 32nd edition of The Outstanding Young Person Award for his work on Artificial intelligence

  • Posted 12 Jul 2018
Interview of Dr Heman Mohabeer, winner of the 32nd edition of The Outstanding Young Person Award for his work on Artificial intelligence

Dr Heman Mohabeer is the winner of the 32nd edition of The Outstanding Young Person Award bestowed by the Junior Chamber International (JCI) - Mauritius, for his work on Artificial Intelligence

Mr. Mohabeer, tell us about yourself.

I am Dr Heman Mohabeer, from the small remote village of Dubreuil. I am currently a lecturer in a private institution and I am very passionate about research in the field of AI. I enjoy working as a lecturer as it helps me to contribute to the society by forming young professionals. My students inspire me a lot since they motivate me to give the best of myself and always show a keen interest in my work. In a way, it helps me to expect more from myself as I always look forward to sharing my knowledge and my passion with them. 

Every day we hear about Artificial Intelligence. You have been rewarded for your work in AI. Can you tell us what Artificial intelligence is about?

Artificial intelligence can be defined in many ways. Artificial Intelligence basically consists of the ability to simulate the human cognitive and behavioural process. It attempts to capture and preserve the human expertise via self-exploration of the environment in which it operates. However, unlike human beings, it is devoid of emotion and thus keeps the machine identity. It can also be defined as an algorithm that is data hungry and based on how it is applied, looks for information out of raw data. This information is often difficult to be perceived by mere human interpretation. In this context, I am talking about big data. Initially, AI agents are trained to delve into data and make sense of it. After a certain period of time, the agents become autonomous and explore the data to look out for patterns and trends by themselves.

In which areas is Artificial Intelligence used?

Due to its versatility, AI can be applied in various fields ranging from agriculture to medicine. In fact, the fourth industrial revolution talks about the adoption of AI in every sector in which there is human intervention. AI is poised to provide assistance to human beings so as to make them more efficient. Take for example the health sector. Nowadays, there are AI bots capable of assisting doctors during surgery thus increasing the success of the operation. The element of probability of failure is greatly reduced with the help of AI. Another example is the increasing use of AI in the Agricultural sector in Australia. Due to the erratic weather pattern, crop productivity can become quite unpredictable. With the use of AI, scientists have been able to map weather pattern and forecast in a more accurate way the types of crops that need to be planted in these conditions. The list is long in terms of application of AI. Autonomous vehicle, disruptive accounting, stock market prediction, intelligent camera, etc. ''Artificial Intelligence is one of the technologies that are expected to become a pillar of the Mauritian economy. We are on the right track and I think that it will bring innovation.''

What is the importance of AI in this digital era? 

AI is becoming increasingly important due to the fact that in this digital era, there is a significant boom in the amount of data that the internet carries. We talk a lot about IOT and big data. However, making sense of those data is very important to get a grasp of the digital world. AI is poised to address this aspect and is an invaluable tool in data science.The government has the ambition of making Mauritius a digital economy. 

What is the place of AI in this context?

This is a very bold and brave approach by the government. However, without AI, digital economy will be a major challenge. In fact, the first thing should have been to take a Research and Development approach in looking for different skills required to make Mauritius a digital economy. AI being at the centre will help in triggering the digital economy. If we look at other countries, for example Canada, Estonia, and even USA, most of the Universities are working hand in hand with the government to boost the economic sector. Just recently, the president of France, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, announced that he wants France to become a leader in AI. So, if we really want to think digital economy we need to think of AI as the next pillar of our economy. The idea is good but unless we invest in innovation then the path towards a digital economy could be quite long.

In his budget speech, the minister of Finance Pravind Jugnauth announced, among other measures, the setting up of a Mauritius Intelligence Council, a new scholarship scheme for students who wish to specialise in digital technologies, namely AI and the training of primary and secondary students in coding. What do think of these measures?

It is a very good initiative from the government to invest in AI. Artificial Intelligence is one of the technologies that are expected to become a pillar of the Mauritian Economy. We are on the right track and I think that it will bring innovation. Providing scholarships and training in coding to our students are laudable measures, it was high time that we form our youngsters in new technologies. I also hope that local talent will be recognised and absorbed in the system to avoid brain drain.

What do you think of the internet highway in Mauritius with the major investments Mauritius Telecom has made to improve infrastructure of fibre all over the island?

I think that Mauritius is an island full of promises and Mauritius Telecom has done a fantastic job deploying fibre all over the island. The internet disparity across different regions has become inexistent. The internet highway in Mauritius is a major element in accelerating the local economic sector. With Mauritius well positioned in the sub Saharan region, the island has the potential to become both a technological and research hub. We need to invest more in our own people than to seek help from external expertise. The internet facilities in Mauritius is quite commendable as compared to the local region.

Artificial intelligence can be defined in many ways. Artificial Intelligence basically consists of the ability to simulate the human cognitive and behavioural process. It attempts to capture and preserve the human expertise via self-exploration of the environment in which it operates.


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