Singapore chats up Microsoft bots in smart nation initiative

Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore has partnered Microsoft to build "chatbots", with the aim of integrating natural language and conversational computing capabilities into its e-government services.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore is looking to tap artificial intelligence technology to enable more natural and simpler interactions with its e-government services.

Led by industry regulator Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), the new initiative would see the use of Microsoft's "conversations as a platform" pitch to explore opportunities in developing the country's next-generation government services based on "conversational computing".

According to Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-in-Charge of Smart Nation Vivian Balakrishnan, IDA and Microsoft would co-develop "chatbots" to support selected public services. These intelligence software tools would assume the role of digital representatives, simulating human behaviour, and enable interactions that were more user-friendly and consistent, said the minister, who announced the new initiative at this week's World Cities Summit.

New proof-of-concepts would be built to integrate conversational intelligence into public services, with efforts focused on making these more "anticipatory" and engaging for the general public.

"I believe there are more intuitive ways for government services to be delivered to our citizens," Balakrishnan said. "Everybody expects responsive and personalised interactions in real-time. The recent quantum improvement of natural language processing means that 'conversations' will be the new medium."

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement: "As everything around us becomes more digitised, conversations as a platform is a new shift that applies the understanding of human language to computers and computing, which can transform every industry."

The software vendor added that its strategy here centred on the use of human language, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to improve computing interfaces and interactions. Using these technologies to power bots, services could be transacted within a conversation--be it spoken or text--rather than through the navigation of icons, webpages, or applications.

Under the agreement with Microsoft, IDA would implement the proof-of-concept in three stages during which the chatbots would first tap a database to answer simple questions from users of selected e-government services. They then would be used to help users complete simple tasks and transactions on government websites. At the final third phase, the chatbots would have the capabilities to respond to personalised user queries.

The initiative also would assess support for multi-languages and multiple user age groups. The prototype would be developed and tested at Microsoft's Centre of Excellence for digital transformation for government and industry.

IDA had previously rolled out its own artificial assistant initiative, called Ask Jamie, across several government agencies.

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