Singapore university sets up AI research facility for 'public good'

With IBM and Google Cloud enlisted as partners, the AI Institute pledges to ensure accountability across various sectors - from healthcare and education to finance and manufacturing.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
Qi Yang/Getty Images

A Singapore university has set up a facility to drive research in artificial intelligence (AI) for "public good", such as ensuring accountability on its use across various sectors. 

The National University of Singapore's (NUS) new AI Institute will look to "advance fundamental research, development, and application" of AI technologies for societal benefits in areas including healthcare, urban sustainability, education, finance, and manufacturing. 

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Research will be run on how its use should be regulated to ensure transparency and accountability, and address concerns about ethics and risks associated with AI, NUS said in a statement Monday. 

The institute also aims to boost Singapore's AI talent pool, pulling together experts within NUS's faculties as well as government agencies and industry partners. This will allow NUS to understand real-world challenges to guide its research and develop the necessary talent and technologies. 

IBM and Google Cloud have been enlisted as initial partners, while the university remains in discussions with other local and international organizations on potential collaboration, the Singapore university said. 

Officially operating effective today, the NUS AI Institute has secured SG$8 million ($5.93 million) in external research grants, while the university itself has pledged to invest another SG$20 million ($14.83 million). The funds will go toward three key areas -- foundational AI research, policy and societal implications of AI, and real-world domain-specific applications. 

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Activities across these research areas will, among others, look to address AI research challenges in AI hardware and software systems, AI theory, and reasoning AI. Such projects can include designing systems that can scale to manage future cloud-based AI workloads and building foundational AI models with lightweight architectures to deliver faster training and inference speed. 

AI experts will work together to develop real-world applications for various verticals including humanities and social sciences and AI for science, spanning biology, chemistry, and materials. NUS AI Institute's scientists, for instance, will tap AI to drive operational efficiencies and safety of the logistics and manufacturing sector and use AI models to improve the distribution of energy and reduce waste. 

Furthermore, the institute will conduct research on AI governance frameworks that can ensure AI development and implementation adhere to societal values, ethical guidelines, and legislation. 

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It will establish a common repository of AI tools, including statistical models, foundational models, and inferencing models, to support research translation and prototyping efforts, NUS said.

Its research for the education sector also will offer learning opportunities, including internships, for undergraduate and graduate students, the university said. 

"The impact of AI on our lives, society, and economy will depend on how we develop, deploy, and govern these technologies to maximize their benefits while addressing the challenges and the risks," said NUS' deputy president for research and technology Liu Bin. 

He added that the AI institute's partnerships with local and international experts in academia and industry will drive the university's objective to drive the ecosystem and align capabilities. 

And it will be doing so in a country where businesses are expecting to prioritize their IT budget on AI and other emerging technologies this year.  

Singapore businesses setting aside IT budget for AI

One in three organizations in Singapore and Hong Kong plan to invest in AI and emerging technologies this year, according to a study released by Colt Technology Services. Conducted by Intuit Research, the December  2023 survey polled 1,114 IT decision-makers across 12 markets -- including Germany, Japan, the US, and the UK -- on their IT expenditure plans. 

Singapore respondents led the pack with 70% expecting an IT budget increase of at least 10%, as they looked to their IT infrastructure to facilitate their growth plans. Their counterparts in Hong Kong placed second, with 49% anticipating similar budget growth rates. 

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Some 47% in Hong Kong and 44% in Singapore pointed to improving security as a priority for their investment this year. Another 42% in Hong Kong and 32% in Singapore cited acquiring AI and machine learning capabilities as a priority. 

One in three respondents in both Asian markets ranked the need to implement emerging technologies as a priority, where 25% were using IT to explore new revenue streams. 

Across the globe, organizations in financial services were most likely -- at 36% -- to single out the need to acquire AI and machine learning capabilities as a priority. 

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