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One student’s vision to build an automated future

1 August 2019
Engineering student pursues passion for machine learning in China’s “Silicon Valley”
The opportunity to study abroad at Tsinghua University and undertake work placements with several of China’s leading technology companies has bolstered one student’s desire to help shape Australia’s own growing artificial intelligence industry.
Current Bachelor of Engineering Honours with Space Engineering Major student Sholto Douglas


Artificial intelligence (AI) has the immense potential to revolutionise both business and society and fundamentally transform the way people do work.

Encompassing big data, sophisticated robots, machine learning, and deep learning algorithms, it is projected that AI can, and will, transform industries like healthcare, mining, transport, and finance by enabling quicker decision making, more accurate analysis, improved customer experience, and increased productivity.

Amongst the global leaders of this AI revolution is China. Almost 50% of total equity funding of AI start-ups globally came from China in 2017, which is higher than the rest of the world. With China’s new AI strategy, China’s core AI industry gross output and AI-related industry gross output is projected to exceed $22.5 billion and $150.8 billion, respectively.

So, when mechatronic engineering student Sholto Douglas was offered the opportunity to study AI at Tsinghua University, one of China’s leading engineering institutions, it was one he seized with both hands.

Afterall, the university is located at the centre of Zhonguancun, China’s equivalent of Silicon Valley where nearly 9,000 hi-tech firms are based, including Baidu and Sina Corp, which are China’s equivalents of Google and Twitter.

“When I was offered the chance to study at Tsinghua University, there was no hesitation,” explains Sholto, who is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Engineering Honours with Space Engineering Major and a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Sydney.

“It’s located in Zhonguancun where as many as 80 new tech start-ups are being born each day.”

During his nearly five-month tenure at Tsinghua University, Sholto studied machine learning, computational biology, mathematics, and developmental economics.

When not in the lecture theatre or laboratory, he was outside pursing his passion for fencing by training and honing his skills alongside China’s national team.

Sholto Douglas with fellow student attending Australia-China Emerging Leaders’ Summit, Beijing


Sholto was later able to apply his machine learning skills in industry while also growing his professional network by undertaking several work placements across the region.

His first placement was in Hong Kong with Zeroth, Asia’s first accelerator program backing AI start-ups, where he helped advise many of the companies they were funding.

Sholto then travelled to Beijing, the capital of China, where he worked with JD.com, China’s version of Amazon, to create their AI accelerator.

Looking towards the future, Sholto hopes to use what he has learnt in China to further expand Australia’s own AI industry, which has the potential to boost Australia’s national income by as much as $2.2 trillion by 2030.

“If we can learn and work in tandem with these countries at the forefront of AI research, we’ll have better odds of shaping AI to be beneficial to the world,” reflects Sholto.

“My experiences in China only reinforced to me the fundamental similarities between all of us and exposed just how big people dream there.

“China’s approaching developing technology with such incredible pace, eagerness and commitment, which we can all definitely draw inspiration from.

“I look forward to contributing to that here in Australia.”

Sholto was able to study abroad due to support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's New Colombo Plan Scholarship, which provides opportunities for Australian undergraduate students to undertake semester-based study and internships or mentorships in 40 participating Indo-Pacific locations.

Opportunities like Sholto’s to undertake valuable industry experience abroad is one way our undergraduate engineering students can contribute towards their mandatory Professional Engagement Program requirements.

Our award-winning PEP program encompasses all our undergraduate engineering degrees. It aims to develop our undergraduate engineering students’ workplace competencies and transferable employability skills that companies look for in engineering graduates.

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