From What I Did: Takeaways from My First Datathon with Data Unchained 2018 by Axiata

Some context about this post: It all started with a LinkedIn message from Phung Cheng Shyong asking whether I would be interested in participating a datathon as he was looking for teammates. As someone who was not from a data science background, the first thoughts were “What’s a datathon?” and “Pfft, are you looking for the right person?”. But on second thoughts, the event is certainly curious and interesting to an outsider. One thing led to another, and there was I, pictured with the rest of team ALSET as above, having endured a 24-hour challenge of brains while battling fatigue over time limitation.

Here are some thoughts and lessons learned from the event:

  1. To really become proficient in data science, one would need to have hands-on experience trying/working on datasets (be it for work or hobby) – tutorials alone is sorely insufficient. It is when working on datasets, and attempting to find certain insights through executing certain models, that one realises what needs to be done. Team ALSET is grateful for the sole data scientist, Cheng Shyong who has done prior data analytics work, both for work and hobby. But even so, he cannot complete the challenge with his experience alone, which is why…

  2. Stack Exchange, Kaggle and other knowledge-exchange sites for data science are all-so important, whether it is to use new analytic tools, or as a refresher on the methods and procedures previously learnt. These sites serve as a guide on how the coding work should go about especially for the new tools required, and also serve as a troubleshoot companion when the coding work was found erroneous. From here, I could see why the data science community is quite a close-knit one as a result of the openness in exchanging knowledge.

  3. A business model that exploits the prediction models is more preferable than a business model that does not. The nature of the event placed emphasis on the business relevance of the data analytics work done, which meant that teams with only technical-heavy people on-board may not necessarily be at advantage if the team falls short in effectively communicating the ways on how the models can be applied or used in a business setting. For this, team ALSET is grateful to have 2 MBA candidates from Asia School of Business, Maksat Amangeldiyev and Saloni Saraogi, to help with the business case portion of the challenge.

  4. Do not underestimate the power of sleep and naps. From this experience, I can testify that a 3-hour sleep at 4am is barely enough to take through the afternoon, especially for someone who is not a night person nor accustomed to working with less sleep. An advice from a teammate to take a short nap after lunch proved to be effective as an energy recharge to last the rest of the day.

  5. Keep an open mind, and be optimistic. Our presentation featured a short video showcasing how the proposed solutions of our business model may look like – to pull off this within the limited time frame seemed (from a personal view) impossible at first. However, Maksat and Saloni have leveraged on their resources and connections to turn this into a reality, which goes to show that ideas should not be discounted altogether at first thought. The both of them have also displayed admirable level of optimism and positivity, which was a great driver to push the team to perform even when the prospects of success seemed minute. Perhaps such optimism is one of the crucial things that defines a successful person – one that is able to become the positive energy around others even when the goings get tough.

At the end of the day, I believe that this event has provided more than just mere experience; it has provided the opportunity to meet and know different people, and to learn lessons from them.

(A shout-out to Low Yen Wei for suggesting the takeaways to be written into an article. This article is also published as an article at LinkedIn: )

From What I Read: Internet of Things

I have been thinking on how I should begin this post, since this is the comeback post after a 2-3 months hiatus. And then I thought, perhaps it is a nice time to review the way I write these posts. I found myself to have fallen into a trap – one that entices the person to write a bunch of words that may end up conveying little. The content that I wrote might look too overwhelming and tedious to read, but leaving readers walking away having learned not as much.

Maybe it is time to force upon myself the KISS principle – Keep It Short and Simple. Less, when done right, could be more.

With that said, I am reviewing the format of how “From What I Read” is written, beginning with the set of questions I seek to answer. Previously, there were 5 questions: What is the subject about; how does it work/come about; how does it impact positively; what are the issues; how do we respond. Seeing that the questions may have overlapping elements, it would be better to group them to just three main items: The Subject – to address the definition and operating principles behind the subject topic; The Use Cases – to outlay functional examples and proposed ideas of applications; The Issues – to outlay problems surrounding and arising from the subject topic. For now, I would be toying with the idea of embedding the “how do we respond” component throughout the three items, but also to reiterate under a conclusion.

Secondly, the style of writing would also be reviewed. Although there are merits to an academic-style of writing, the layman audience (whom the posts are written for in mind) by and large may not be able to appreciate it. This revamp would be a harder challenge than narrowing down 5 sub-topics to 3 since writing style is something embedded in the writer – but hey, if you don’t try, you may never know. (Of course, the idea to write slightly more academically is to appropriately attribute ideas to the respective authors where I sourced it from – but I guess the readers here, if there are any, do not really care as long as there is a list of references. I will probably hyperlink where the main ideas are sourced from instead of writing the authors name here and there.) And yes, I think I should inject some casualness in the writing, just to experiment with styles.

With all things considered, let’s get started with Internet of Things (IoT).

The Subject

When it comes to IoT, some of us may have seen some cool video clips of how a futuristic home would look like: from automatic doors and windows, to automated climate control (some fancy word for air-conditioning), smart refrigerators, and now to even pre-warming your bed before your slumber (for those in temperate climates of course, beds like those would not be very welcomed under tropical weathers). Well, some of these things are really not that far off from reality, thanks to advancements in the technology of connectivity and electronics.

IoT, if I may explain in simplicity, is the enabling of devices to “communicate” to each other by being connected to the internet (or to each other). This implies the idea of controlling the turning on and off (and even fine-tuning the settings) of the devices, be it through programming where the input of the surroundings or other devices’ reaction (like cameras would be turned on after motion sensors are triggered upon detecting movements), or remotely through an external device (like smartphones) being connected to the internet (or to a private network).

So how do these IoT devices “talk” to each other, and even “instruct” to each other? The network that connects these devices set the backstage to how the communication is facilitated. Devices could be connected via Ethernet or Bluetooth (for shorter, closer range), WiFi (for medium range), or LTE and other satellite communication (for wider, larger range of coverage). Processing of data from the sensors (of the devices) will be done in the “cloud” (servers), but it is expected that as device technology develops, processing would be conducted on-device before relaying useful data back to the cloud.

The Use Cases

Currently, one of the most prominent functional examples of IoT is smart speakers, such as Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, where users could set reminders and timers, obtain information such as news, and even do online shopping via voice command. When integrated with other smart devices such as smart light-bulbs, users can further make home automation a reality. Such a case for IoT does not merely serve as fancy tricks when receiving guests at home, but is ever more meaningful to the elderly and disabled where physical movements may be limited and constrained.

Of course, IoTs may also help consumers in planning and managing resources. There are ideas where smart refrigerators may able to detect shortage in grocery supplies and alert users on restocking them (and even offer to order for them). On the other hand, smart climate control systems would able to proactively control energy usage to achieve the desired indoor temperature, which would aid in energy efficiency.

On a more macro scale, there are cities have used IoT for traffic control and management, and some for waste management. That being said, implementing and developing smart cities would require a huge sum of public investment, and the reception and adoption of IoT by the public masses. However, as autonomous vehicles increasingly becoming a reality, there will also be a significant progress in the furtherance of smart city technologies to facilitate integration with these smart cars.

Outside of consumer applications, IoT has found its place in businesses as well. There are use cases for IoT in dairy farms, where the health of livestocks are monitored. In the healthcare industries, IoT could be deployed for real-time tracking and assistance of patients from a remote location, such as to deploy assistance as soon as sensors having detected patients’ falls. On a more broader use of IoT in industries, there are use cases in the form of smart security systems and smart air-conditioning systems to provide effective and efficient control of the environment.

Coming back to consumer applications, having sensors in smart devices would aid in relaying data regarding the device’s performance back to the manufacturers. This would allow manufacturers to perform better after-sales service, such as maintenance repairs and replacements. This may enhance the value proposition offered by enterprises to consumers.

And in line with enhancing value proposition, businesses may be able to understand their customers better as they gather more data from the smart devices used, and further provide tailored solutions to the customers’ needs.

The Issues

I think this point of the post is most ideal to highlight the elephant in the room – data privacy. Since the sensors of smart devices detect users’ actions before storing and relaying data, unquestionably data of individuals would be collected somewhere – and as we discussed earlier, companies manufacturing these devices are collecting them. Of course, not all of such companies built their IoT business model on selling these data, but the phrase “not all” suggested some companies do.

Some might think that data about one’s room temperature would not too huge a matter to fuss about. But keep in mind that with multiple inputs of data combined in analysis, one’s last activity could be figured out – not something we would necessarily want a third-party to know.

This brings us to another related topic – security. Flawed IoT networks and devices could be susceptible to attacks by hackers. Remember the smart speakers mentioned earlier? While individuals may not mind trivial conversation at home being eavesdropped, a compromised smart speaker in the office setting would have serious consequences.

And then there is the dependency on the Internet to function, which poses significant concentration risk on the internet and electricity infrastructure. In a world with devices being connected to the internet, electricity and the internet itself will be rendered as “too big to fail”. In an event when electricity and the internet “does fail”, the outcome could range from being annoyed by non-functioning household appliances, to being “imprisoned” by non-functioning smart locks.

All these concerns aside, we must be cognisant that IoT would be dependent on availability of high-speed internet, and that they would be taking up a lot of bandwidth from the broadband. This presents a two-fold problem: one, we may need to partition part of the high-speed internet some of us currently enjoy for the smart devices to transmit data to the cloud; two, not all of us would have reliable access to high-speed internet at this point in time, nor in the foreseeable future. Thus, until broadband services is made affordable and accessible to more people, IoT would struggle to take off into mass adoption.

The Takeaway

The use cases and issues highlighted were probably a mere tip of an iceberg of how IoT could impact our everyday lives, providing us indicators on how we may need to transform the way we do things currently in the journey to widespread IoT adoption.

And like most other topics highlighted previously, the recurring theme of concern is personal privacy – how much are we, as a society, would be willing to sacrifice privacy (which constitutes personal liberty and freedom) for convenience?

Or perhaps, such a question may soon lose its relevance to a generation of people that are born with smart devices and FB-enabled services where we are increasingly indifferent to sharing data of our digital identity in exchange of the convenience from filling up an entire sign-up form.


What is the Internet of Things? WIRED explains by Matt Burgess:

What is the IoT? Everything you need to know about the Internet of Things right now by Steve Ranger:

Your terrible broadband will kill the Internet of Things dead by Steve Ranger:

A Simple Explanation of ‘The Internet of Things’ by Jacob Morgan:

What Is the Internet of Things? by Fergus O’Sullivan:

Smart cities: A cheat sheet by Teena Maddox:

The Smart Way To Build Smart Cities by HBS Working Knowledge:

P.S. By the way, part of the reason why I chose to write about IoT is because of the upcoming Axiata Data Unchained 2018 datathon, in which I would be participating in – will try to document and put into a future post.

From What I Read: Smart Contracts

I have been thinking a lot about what would make a good topic to write, after featuring ICOs and blockchain in this site. The original idea was to move on to another genre away from blockchain technology, such as machine learning/artificial intelligence. But I felt there is a need to address about smart contracts to provide a fitting closure to the blockchain genre, since smart contracts are mentioned in the two articles and yet did not have enough screen time for elaboration.

Smart contracts – it is quite tempting to perceive at first glance that this could be something revolutionary. After all, anything that adds the word “smart” in front would suggest a radical shift from its original nature. Just take smartphones for instance – Alexander Graham Bell would not in his wildest dreams foresee his invention of communicating through electric wires would have come to this day of wireless and interactive communications (which also means having to bear with dog-faced Snapchat filters). But I digress – does putting the word “smart” before contracts presents a tectonic shift to the legal contracts as we know it?

My readings will be from Blockgeeks Inc., Coin Center, Bloomberg (an opinion piece by Elaine Ou, a blockchain engineer, and a news article) and MIT Technology Review (both articles by Mike Orcutt). The references will be included below.

What is the subject about?

The phrase “smart contracts” was coined by Nick Szabo (a legal scholar and cryptographer) in 1994 after realising that the blockchain could be used for digital contracts. And according to Blockgeeks, smart contracts are contracts converted into code, stored and replicated in the system and supervised by the network of computers running the blockchain, resulting in ledger feedback, such as transfer of money, or the receiving of product or service.

The article also quoted Nick Szabo’s analogy of the vending machine, where the machine takes a coin and dispense a product and the correct change according to the displayed price – the parallel being the blockchain (digital ledger) takes the coin (or a certain asset) and runs the code until it reaches a point that it validates a condition and determines how the asset should be managed, such as transferring to another person, or to be refunded back to the person, or any combination of both.

Mike Orcutt from MIT Technology Review further elaborates Nick Szabo’s view, in that the vision is to embed the many contractual clauses in the hardware and software we use and interact with such that the breach of contract would be expensive. However, the author pointed out in a separate article that the newness of the technology meant that there was no agreed definition on what smart contracts are (and this has implied consequences, which will be elaborated later).

How does it work?

Continuing in MIke Orcutt’s article in MIT Technology Review was a distilled technical definition of smart contract: it’s simply an “If-Then” statement that runs on a blockchain.

Blockgeeks illustrated how a smart contract may work in an example of an apartment rental through the blockchain (and payment is made by cryptocurrency): a receipt of the rental is held in a virtual contract; a digital entry key comes to the tenant by a specified date or otherwise a refund is released,; the system works on the If-Then premise witnessed by people on the blockchain ensuring a faultless delivery; the document is cancelled automatically after the agreement period expires; the code cannot be interfered by either landlord or tenant without the other knowing since all parties are simultaneously alerted should there be changes.

The same site also provided example in a basic code on Ethereum, as well as a visual illustration:


How does it impact (in a good way)?

As you can see from the visual illustration, there would be opportunities of automation at the registry and even at a legal institution (or at least what a courthouse looks like). Coin Center’s Houman Shadab pointed out that smart contracts may reduce the need for litigators, judges and arbitrators since the execution of a contract is done automatically without human element, and is verified by witnesses i.e. the network of people in the blockchain.

The other reduction we see would be the need for intermediaries. We may need to rely on brokers and lawyers to prepare (monitor and execute) an agreement currently, while smart contracts may enable us to create (and manage) these agreements on our own in the future, thereby eliminating the need for middlemen. That being said, as Houman Shadab pointed out, the use of smart contracts would lead to an increase in the need for transactional attorneys and others to structure smart contractual relationship. Blockgeeks offered a different possibility of the future, where lawyers would change from writing traditional agreements to coding standard smart contract templates (such as those traditional contract templates on LegalZoom).

Blockgeeks outlined the benefits of smart contracts, which sounded similar to the blockchain: Autonomy (no need for intermediaries, reducing third-party manipulation), Trust and Safety (encryption on a shared ledger), Backup (documents are duplicated many times over the blockchain network), Speed (automation of task processes), Savings (elimination of intermediaries or notaries for a transaction), Accuracy (errors in manual input of forms avoided through automation).

There are currently several real-world use cases of smart contracts. The Depository Trust & Clearing Corp (which was mentioned in the previous post on blockchain) in 2015 has processed 345 million securities transactions on a blockchain ledger, while Barclays Corporate Bank have partnered with a blockchain tech company, Wave in testing the use of smart contracts to log change of ownership and automatically transfers payments to other financial institutions within supply chain management. Bloomberg also reported several cases of smart contracts being tested on the equity- and credit-default-swaps markets.

Of course, the potential of smart contracts can be scaled up to cover other areas of life, such as government (electronic voting), management (process automation), automobile (accident fault detection, variable-rate insurance), and healthcare (transferring of health records to insurance providers, healthcare management i.e. supervision of drug administration, test results etc.).

What are the issues?

At present, there are trust issues with the blockchain platforms on which smart contract attempts are built upon. According to Elain Ou’s article, in 2017, $150 million worth of ether were stuck in multi-signature wallets (which functions like joint bank accounts requiring permission of two or more individuals) after a botched hacking attempt. Earlier in the same year, a Canadian exchange, QuadrigaCX accidentally trapped $13 million in its own broken smart contract. And yet according to the author, the multi-signature wallet is the simplest application one can build based on smart contracts.

These issues came about due to the wallets’ reliance on a single, centralised bit of code which made it vulnerable to hacking attacks and trapping users’ funds within the wallet. And to make matters more difficult, the immutability nature of smart contracts (and the blockchain) makes issues harder to resolve or contracts to be rescinded.

Smart contracts’ vague definition (earlier mentioned) also caused different understanding among legislators, which potentially causes chaos from the variation of smart contracts’ governance. Mike Orcutt reported the cases of legislators in Tennessee and Arizona legally recognising smart contracts to attract investments and entrepreneurs, but also highlighted the difference in the laws enacted by the respective states. Furthermore, the Chamber of Digital Commerce argues that existing laws have provided an “unquestionable legal basis” for smart contracts, which are essentially legal contracts executed on the blockchain – hence Orcutt’s point that “a smart contract is simply an “if-then” statement that runs on a blockchain”.

On a practical level, the problems of smart contracts pile up. Blockgeeks highlighted the potential issues of bugs in smart contracts’ code, government regulation, taxation, legal jurisdiction and enforcement on non-digital components in a contract (for example, a rental agreement via a smart contract would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce the clause of prohibiting the tenant to make the rented property for public use).

Houman Shadab highlighted several issues that are on a conceptual level. Since smart contracts are immutable, this would led to contracts ending up being ambiguous and imprecise, as contracting parties would prefer flexibility and avoiding to lock themselves into rigid commitments and outcomes. The example given in the article was the renegotiation feature of a traditional contract when circumstances change, like a contract for an actor can be renegotiated after his/her debut movie became a big hit.

Shadab further added that the real world is not sold on the benefits brought about by presently available systems that are similar to smart contracts, such as bank payment obligations – an electronic letter of credits that pays the seller if the correct data showing the goods were shipped to the buyer were transferred to the bank – which were slow to be adopted by corporate clients of banks due to the lack of awareness, critical mass and cost of implementation.

Not to mention, there are already automation in the contracting process and related business operations in which smart contracts are expected to replace. The promises of smart contracts may have been captured with the likes of automation softwares provided by software companies such as Oracle (PeopleSoft platform), ABLSoft and Ftrans.

The allure of smart contracts, after all, may not be that attractive as we perceive.

How do we respond?

In view of the many issues surrounding smart contracts, it goes without mention that there is much room for improvement for this piece of innovation. As a start, Shadab pointed out that built-in mechanisms and protocols would be needed to facilitate adjustments in the terms of an agreement without the need for renegotiation. This would mean that users would not need to require new code when there arise a need for changes in terms as circumstances change.

The author further urged for smart contracts to overcome problems of existing contract automation initiatives to provide differentiation points over them, making smart contracts as a viable replacement over them. This could be done by having features over and above those offered by companies selling contract-enhancing softwares.

Elaine Ou implied that blockchain platforms would need to prove itself to be trustworthy and reliable for smart contracts to operate, in order to restore trust within the public and facilitate mass adoption. Improvements, though, would be “an onerous, slow-moving process” unlike the surge in cryptocurrency prices in 2017.

We as a society would also need to better understand the implications of smart contracts, namely the empowerment of users to manage their own rights and obligations in the apparent absence of intermediaries or legal institutions. This would possibly require a paradigm shift, a generation’s mindset and lifestyle overhaul, assuming conventional contracts and agreements would be replaced with digital contracts with automatic enforcement

But for now, there are just quite a myriad of issues for smart contracts to address and overcome – so much so that the blockchain engineer called them outright “dumb”. Would the idea of smart contracts work eventually, though? Perhaps we have to take cue from the earlier example of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the phone, and keep an open mind to future’s endless possibilities.


What Are Smart Contracts? A Beginner’s Guide to Smart Contracts – Blockgeeks: 

What are Smart Contracts, and What Can We do with Them? – Coin Center: 

Smart Contracts Are Still Way Too Dumb – Bloomberg: 

Blockchain Gets a Wall Street Win: ‘We Know the Thing Works Now’ – Bloomberg: 

Ethereum’s smart contracts are full of holes – MIT Technology Review: 

States that are passing laws to govern “smart contracts” have no idea what they’re doing – MIT Technology Review:

Featured Image from Blockgeeks:

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Firstly, welcome from wherever you are reading this.

I’m Ben, the managing-editor-cum-sole-editor of For Tomorrow Is Here, a blog aimed at discussing pertinent current topics relevant to the future.

This blog is sort of an outcome from a mentorship programme at work, in which I challenged myself to write a certain topic every month. This is where the From What I Read series came about: a monthly summary write-up (in 5 main points) on several articles and publications about a certain subject topic.

Not sure what else would I do with this blog, but we will see as we move along.

And here is a caveat: most of the topics featured may be weighted towards financial applications since it is relevant to my current workplace, but I will try to explore topics that are less connected to finance too – who knows, it may find its footing in this realm too.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton