The retinal surgeon speaks about setting his sights on progressing the future of medicine with artificial intelligence

As the director of the Singapore Health Services’s artificial intelligence department, Daniel Ting believes that the future of medicine is with technology that drastically improves patient care. Using artificial intelligence (A.I.) and deep learning, routine ocular procedures like eye scans are exponentially enhanced; along with the adoption of blockchain in Ting’s practice that safeguard the privacy of patients, he constantly shares his expertise on various international committees with his latest imaging algorithm being licensed to more than 20 countries.

Tatler Singapore finds out, over a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, just how important disruption is when it comes to the medicines of tomorrow.

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How important is tradition to you?

Daniel Ting (DT): It’s incredibly personal for me. Tradition helps shape the culture and identity of people and society. It defines our past, present and future. With tradition, we can have a sense of belonging with a group of people that share our core values, morals and ethics. With these values, like-minded people work better together, they are kinder and more helpful. Sometimes, tradition can also give you inner peace and self-acceptance.

I also enjoy a lot of Chinese teachings and history. Chinese New Year is my favourite holiday as I get to experience the thrill of firecrackers and red packets with family and friends all dressed up. These features define some of the Chinese tradition that I am extremely proud of.

How do you define success?

DT: Success, to me, is always making a difference in other people’s lives. At work, I wear several hats. Clinically, I am a retinal surgeon who operates on complex cataract and retina patients. I still remember operating on an elderly patient with extremely dense cataract. She told me that the next day after her surgery, for the first time in three years, she was watching the telly. So, this to me, is a success—restoring one’s sight and allowing them to increase the quality of their life.

Innovation-wise, I am currently driving many A.I. innovation projects at the Singapore National Eye Centre and SingHealth. In SingHealth, we have about 30,000 staff, and also serve about 50 to 60 per cent of the Singaporean population. To date, we have developed quite a few A.I. systems to detect the major blinding conditions, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma suspect, age-related macular degeneration and myopic macular degeneration that account for a billion of the population worldwide. This is a Singapore-grown A.I. technology that could potentially change the lives of many patients by helping them to see better. This, to me, is another form of success: Harnessing the power of A.I. to improve someone’s vision.

At home, I have a duty to play as husband and father. My wife, Celene, is an obstetric and gynaecological specialist at the KKH hospital. We have a five year-old son, Aiden, who is now in K1, and I also have a second one in tow who is due in two months. Both my wife and I have incredibly busy medical routines, but we will always make sure that we spend enough time with Aiden on the weekdays and weekends. Our benchmarks for success for our sons will be to see them grow to become people who are kind, hardworking and passionate that contribute back to the society when they are older. 

How do you define disruption?

DT: Disruption, in my mind, is something that will fundamentally change how we live. For mankind, we have undergone four industrial revolutions—from steam; to electricity; to computing and A.I.. At present, we are also marching towards 5G/6G, blockchain, non-fungible tokens and the metaverse. With the advent of supercomputers and now the quantum computers, this will certainly disrupt how we live for the next decades.

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How open are you to change?

DT: I would like to think that I am someone who is open-minded and happy to explore new ideas, especially those that I am not familiar with. I always see this as a learning opportunity to discover new things and meet new people. I have always believed that we need to change for the better, and not change for the sake of changing. Therefore, I think reading widely will definitely help with the understanding of a new emerging domain, before we can really decide whether this new emerging technology can truly help solve our unmet needs.

Technology should always be built based on unmet needs and gaps, and not technology that looks for solutions. A quote that I have always liked from Theodore Roosevelt is to, “Keep your eyes on the stars, but feet on the ground.” So, it’s important to think big, and work hard for it. It’s also important to not just be a dreamer and do nothing about it.

“To encourage progress, it is all about building the next generation and supporting the pipelines of talents within our ecosystem. To build a critical mass of an A.I.-literate generation, education and empowerment are the two key strategies that I have always adopted.”
Daniel Ting

What do you think sets you apart from your contemporaries?

DT: I am blessed to work have worked with esteemed colleagues at my work place. The Singapore General Hospital has been ranked in the Top 10 hospitals in the world for years now, and the Singapore National Eye Centre is also one of the top eye institutions internationally.

To me, it is important to always enjoy and be passionate with what you do. This is the only thing that will keep you going, especially on your down time. I would like to think that I am someone who is quite passionate with what I do. Of course, being in tech can be quite biased as there are so many new things that will pop up every day. I am also very fortunate to be surrounded by many like-minded people. If you want to go far, go together.

What is your vision for your industry?

DT: For healthcare, my vision is to harness the power of A.I. to shape the academic medicine of tomorrow. Using the sophisticated technologies, the main goals are to enhance the clinical outcome and experience of patients, and to create a tech-enabled workplace to make the workplace better for staff. I hope that we can continue to position ourselves as one of the global health tech leaders in the A.I. innovation space.

How have you encouraged progress in your industry?

DT: To encourage progress, it is all about building the next generation and supporting the pipelines of talents within our ecosystem. To build a critical mass of an A.I.-literate generation, education and empowerment are the two key strategies that I have always adopted. Through this, along with the know-how; knowledge; thought leadership and critical skillsets can be passed on rapidly.

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