Singapore looks to drive AI research, capabilities with Google Cloud pact

Touted as the Singapore government's first private-sector partnership in artificial intelligence, the collaboration will see both sides jointly develop and testbed applications as well as work on issues pertaining to AI governance and ethics.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore has announced plans to work with Google Cloud to drive the country's research and competencies in artificial intelligence (AI). Both sides also will work on issues pertaining to AI governance and ethics.

The pact between Smart Nation and Digital Government Group's (SNDGG) National AI Office and Google Cloud is pitched as the Singapore government's first private-sector AI partnership with a global technology vendor.

The agreement comprises three areas in which the two partners will collaborate, spanning research and development (R&D), competency development, and AI ethics. In research, the National AI Office will work with Google Cloud and other subsidiaries under Alphabet to jointly develop and testbed AI applications for key sectors such as finance and healthcare.

Google Cloud also will offer "dedicated" training resources and certification schemes to build proficiencies in AI and machine learning amongst local public-sector officers.

The US tech vendor said these would expand on its current offerings under the Skills Ignition SG training programme, which was launched in 2020 with SkillsFuture Singapore and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Google Cloud added that it would further support the government's initiatives in driving AI governance and ethics in sectors such as finance. The US vendor had contributed to Singapore's Model AI Governance Framework and self-assessment guide for businesses, and sat on the country's Advisory Council of the Ethical Use of AI.

Google's collaboration here aimed to manage "new forms of risks" that would surface as AI became more pervasive.

SNDGG's National AI Office director Chng Zhenzhi said the country would benefit from the US vendor's technical expertise and investments, while the latter could leverage Singapore's ecosystem as a testbed to trial new applications "safely", before expanding them across the region and globally.

"With the [partnership agreement], we can look forward to novel AI solutions that will make an impact on the way Singaporeans, and people around the world, live and work," Chng said.

Google Cloud's Singapore and Malaysia country director Sherie Ng added that the vendor hoped the collaboration would drive the ability for AI to offer greater societal benefits in areas such as financial inclusion, carbon footprint reduction, and tailored healthcare services.

These should be delivered alongside equity, privacy, transparency, and accountability, Ng said.

"AI is becoming an everyday reality, with the potential to empower inclusive finance, accelerate genomic analysis to better understand and treat diseases, and optimise supply chains to reduce their environmental impact," she said. "At the same time, there's an urgent need for skilled talent with competencies in AI to further develop and implement the technology at scale."

She said the collaboration with National AI Office to build up proficiencies in the public sector as well as initiatives such as Skills Ignition SG signalled Google's commitment to bolster "Singapore's social compact" and ensure everyone here could participate in the digital economy.

The partnership announcement on Tuesday comes as the US tech vendor marks its 15th year in the Asian nation, where it has pumped $850 million in data centre investments. It operates three data centres in Singapore and has a local workforce of 3,000, up from 24 in 2007. 

Singapore looks to tap opportunities amidst challenging landscape

Speaking at Google's local office Tuesday morning, Singapore's deputy prime minister and finance minister Lawrence Wong said the next 15 years would be significantly different from the last 15 years, with economic uncertainties hanging overhead.

He noted that nations in the last couple of decades also mostly operated on an understanding they still could be business partners, even if they were not "friends".

"I think now, increasingly, there is a new logic at work – let us be friends first, before we do business," Wong said, pointing to a shift in geopolitics relations.

He said such ties increasingly were driving trade and investments and, if this trend continued for an extended time, the world was becoming "more bifurcated and decoupled".

"We must brace ourselves for more uncertainties and more challenges down the road," the Singapore minister said.

Amidst this landscape, though, there were opportunities in Singapore and Asia. He noted that Southeast Asia, in particular, was home to a sizeable untapped and fast-growing digital consumer market.

Located in the centre of Asia, Singapore was well-placed to capitalise on these opportunities, he said, adding that the country had been making investments in critical infrastructures. It also had been focusing on growth enablers such as digital economy agreements, with which several countries had signed on, including France, the UK, South Korea, and Australia.

Wong further pointed to partnerships with industry players, such as Google, as important for Singapore to boost its tech ecosystem and function as an effective hub. Such initiatives were necessary to build skillsets as well as drive innovation and sustainability. 

Google on Tuesday announced plans to offer a $1 million grant to Mandai Nature, which would go towards supporting the Southeast Asia Climate and Nature-based Solutions Coalition. This group comprises eight global environmental and conversation non-profit organisations and focuses on driving investment in climate applications that benefit the Southeast Asian population.

The consortium will tap Google's million-dollar fund over the next 18 months to develop an open source online mapping tool to identify geographies in the region, which can drive carbon reduction and host rich biodiversity.

The funds also will facilitate data sharing between ongoing projects to promote best practices in the design, implementation, and monitoring of nature-based applications. 

Speaking at a media briefing, Ng said Google looked to leverage its tech capabilities such as machine learning, cloud, and data analytics to help address challenges organisations in various industries currently faced, including healthcare, financial inclusion, and sustainability.

For instance, while 62% of Singapore organisations recognised that ESG efforts were a priority, they ranked these lower in urgency than the need to drive business revenue and growth, she said. Furthermore, 57% of local organisations said they needed tools that could help them track and measure their sustainability initiatives.

To support such requirements, Ng noted that Google last month partnered Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to launch the Point Carbon Zero Programme to incubate and scale climate fintech applications.

The scheme would shortlist 100 such applications for development and testing on Google's open source cloud platform. The objective here was to provide the financial sector with access to "accurate and granular" climate-related data, so more efficient deployment of capital could be directed towards green and sustainable projects. 


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