Singapore AI strategy signals launch of dedicated unit

By on 25/11/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Singapore’s deputy prime minister, Heng Swee Keat (right), says that a ready workforce, openness, collaboration and good governance will underpin the city-state’s AI strategy. (Image courtesy: G20 Argentina/flickr).

The Singapore government is to create a dedicated AI unit to develop policy and create new project partnerships, under a national AI strategy launched this month. According to the Smart Nation Digital Government Office (SNDGO), which developed the strategy, the National AI Office will set the national AI agenda and pull together research, industry and government stakeholders to work on AI projects.    

The strategy is designed to position Singapore as a global leader in the development and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030, and allocates S$500m (US$366m) to nine priority sectors including healthcare, education, finance, cybersecurity, transport and logistics, and national security. Part of of the city-state’s ‘smart nation’ initiative, it encourages collaboration between the public and private sectors, and sets out ways to equip the Singaporean workforce with AI skills.

“The national AI strategy is a key step in our smart nation journey,” said Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, as reported by ZDNet. “It spells out our plans to deepen our use of AI technologies to transform our economy, going beyond just adopting technology, to fundamentally rethinking business models and making deep changes to reap productivity gains and create new areas of growth.”

Small, but ambitious

Lee admitted that as a small country, Singapore “lacks the scale of large markets and R&D ecosystems” but said the island state can compensate by “building up AI research, and working together cohesively across government, industry, and research, to develop and deploy AI solutions in key sectors”.

Five initial projects will focus on key industry challenges, including border clearance, freight planning, and chronic disease prediction.  

Speaking at the Singapore FinTech Festival and Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology conference earlier this month, Singapore’s deputy prime minister Heng Swee Keat said that there is “great potential” for AI to be applied to the prediction, detection and management of chronic diseases. “AI can be used to analyse clinical and genomic data, medical images and health behaviours to better assess the risk profile of individual patients for better prevention and care management,” he said.

Human-centric approach

Heng said that three factors underpin Singapore’s AI strategy: a ready workforce, openness and collaboration, and good governance.

The first, he said, entails taking a “human-centric” approach to new technology, and ensuring that workers are equipped with the right skills.

The goal is for the country’s workforce to have the necessary capabilities to support an AI-driven economy – it plans to train 25,000 professionals in basic AI coding and implementation by 2025 – and for its engineers and entrepreneurs to create new AI products and services to serve the local and global markets. 

Heng announced that to help realise this ambition, the government will be launching AI Makerspace: a scheme to enable smaller enterprises to jumpstart their AI journey by providing them with access to data, AI libraries, and supercomputing resources. 

The national AI strategy also outlines enablers that the government deems essential in sustaining a “vibrant AI ecosystem”, including the robust data architecture needed to enable the public and private sectors to manage and exchange information securely, ZDNet reported.  

Earlier this year, Singapore published what are understood to be Asia’s first set of guidelines for the ethical and responsible use of AI.

“We must anticipate the social challenges that AI will create by maintaining public trust and building capabilities to manage and govern AI technologies, and guarding against cybersecurity attacks and breaches to data privacy,” prime minister Lee said.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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