Singapore to ‘double down’ on artificial intelligence efforts, says Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore to ‘double down’ on artificial intelligence efforts, says Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore will focus on developing artificial intelligence (AI) in the coming years, said Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan. Junn Loh reports. 

SINGAPORE: Singapore will “double down” on its efforts to build up its artificial intelligence (AI) sector, and equip its workforce to use these tools to “participate meaningfully” in a future where the economy is driven by the technology, said Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday (Feb 28).

Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that AI, particularly deep machine learning, has revolutionised the scene in recent years, and people are benefiting from services such as voice assistants, language translations, GPS optimisation and credit card fraud alerts. He was speaking during the Committee of Supply debate on the Prime Minister's Office.

On the Singapore Government’s end, AI has been used for detecting drowning incidents, fraudulent activities with regards to SkillsFuture and local speech recognition. In fact, AI is used to transcribe this year's COS debates, he added.

READ: Drowning detection at pools, personal alert buttons among new Smart Nation projects

One of the key performance indicators stated in the Digital Government Blueprint released last year was for all ministries and their related agencies to have at least one AI project by 2023.

There is already a “good foundation” for AI here, through a multi-agency effort from the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG), Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and other economic agencies, Dr Balakrishnan, who is also the Foreign Affairs minister, said.

For instance, the National Research Foundation set up AI Singapore (AISG) to bring research institutions and start-ups in this field together back in 2017. 

Last year, AISG announced its AI for Everyone programme to teach the basics of the technology to 10,000 Singaporeans ranging from secondary students to working adults, as well as a more industry-centric AI for Industry programme targeting about 2,000 working adults.

READ: 10,000 in Singapore to be taught AI basics for free

MCI, too, is developing guidelines to encourage responsible and safe use of AI, the minister pointed out.  The Model Artificial Intelligence Governance Framework, unveiled by Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, is one such example.

However, the country’s push towards AI doesn’t stop there.

“We need to double down on these efforts,” Dr Balakrishnan declared.

He said an inter-agency taskforce will be formed this year to study how Singapore will develop AI as a strategic capability and become a trusted global hub for test-bedding, deploying and scaling AI solutions.

He added that for citizens, this means “new and better services” whether from the Government or private sector and the possibilities are “quite promising”. The minister cited findings from consultancy firm McKinsey saying AI can be used to optimise traffic light networks and predictively maintain public infrastructure, or when used in schools, can help detect student stress early.

Dr Balakrishnan said there are also AI applications in the areas of finance, logistics and cybersecurity, and the Government hopes to co-create with companies here to develop such solutions.

To scale development efforts, the Government is looking to open up access to data and AI tools so everyone can experiment. “We want to support SMEs to adopt AI and work on Government use cases,” he said.

There are also plans to expand public and private sector collaborations, with one example cited being 100 Experiments, a programme run by AI Singapore that partners companies to solve actual business problems, he added.

The minister also said local know-how in AI will be built up so everyone can benefit from AI capabilities. This means teaching computational thinking and data literacy in schools and training adults in data science and AI skills, he elaborated.

“We do not expect everyone to become an AI expert,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

“But AI ... is a general purpose technology, and we want our workforce to be able to use (such) tools to participate meaningfully in the future AI-driven economy.”

Source: CNA/kk

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