SINGAPORE: In line with its Smart Nation initiative, the Republic will partner Microsoft in creating its next-generation digital Government services, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-In-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Dr Vivian Balakrishnan announced on Tuesday (Jul 12).
This will be done through a new computing proof-of-concept (POC) by Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and Microsoft. The POC will explore ways to build "conversational intelligence" - such as virtual assistants - into public services, with the aim of making them more anticipatory, accessible, engaging and inclusive for Singaporeans.
“I believe there are more intuitive ways for Government services to be delivered to our citizens. Everybody expects responsive and personalised interactions in real time," Dr Balakrishnan said during a conference at this year’s World Cities Summit.
The minister also noted that with the recent improvements in natural language processing, "conversations" will be the new medium.
"This joint research project with Microsoft to demonstrate the utility of conversational computing for public services will be all the more pertinent," he said.
MORE IMPACTFUL, INCLUSIVE TECHNOLOGY
The exploration of conversational intelligence "will be as powerful, if not more powerful than the Web or mobile apps that have changed how we work and play in the last few decades", Microsoft said.
"The ability to have citizens, regardless of their understanding of technology and language, interact with the computing interface naturally and more effectively, will ensure that technology is impactful and inclusive," Microsoft Singapore managing director Jessica Tan said.
"As an example, teaching computers to understand our natural language will make technology 'invisible' and allow older Singaporeans to participate more actively and inclusively," she added. "Infusing intelligence into these interactions will also provide all citizens with their own 'personal digital assistants' as they interact with public services."
"With this new partnership on the Conversations as a Platform proof-of-concept, we will be working closely with IDA to explore potential future scenarios, by applying the understanding of human language to computers and computing, to further enhance the way citizens and businesses interact online with the Government."
One of the programmes that the Government will be exploring is the use of intelligent software called chatbots, which can function as digital representatives that are able to perform simple and efficient interactions with citizens.
The POC will be implemented in three phases, during which intelligent chatbots are tested under various scenarios and functions.
Currently, the IDA has a chatbot on its website known as "Ask Jamie @ IDA", which Microsoft said it was not involved in the development.