Singapore wants widespread AI use in smart nation drive

With the launch of its national artificial intelligence (AI) strategy, alongside a slew of initiatives, the Singapore government aims to fuel AI adoption to generate economic value and provide a global platform on which to develop and testbed AI applications.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

(Source: Singapore Smart Nation and Digital Government Office)

Singapore has unveiled an ambitious plan to drive the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) across the city-state and position it as a global platform on which to develop and testbed AI applications. With the launch of a national AI strategy, the government is aiming to leverage the technology to create economic value, enhance citizen lives, and arm its workforce with the necessary skillsets. 

Stressing the integral role of AI in Singapore's smart nation efforts, the government said its national AI strategy was necessary to identify and allocate resources to key focus areas on a national level. It also detailed how government agencies, organisations, and researchers could collaborate to ensure a positive impact from AI, as well as direct attention to areas where change needed to be managed or potential new risks needed to be addressed as AI becomes more pervasive.

The key goal here is to pave the way for Singapore, by 2030, to be a leader in developing and deploying "scalable, impactful AI solutions" in key verticals, according to the Smart Nation Digital Government Office (SNDGO), which developed the national AI strategy. Singaporeans also would trust the use of AI in their lives, which need to be nurtured from a clear awareness of the benefits and implications of the technology. 

In addition, by 2030, the goal is for the country's workforce to have the necessary capabilities to support an AI-driven economy and for its engineers and entrepreneurs to create new AI products and services to serve the local and global markets. 

"Domestically, our private and public sectors will use AI decisively to generate economic gains and improve lives. Internationally, Singapore will be recognised as a global hub in innovating, piloting, test-bedding, deploying and scaling AI solutions for impact," said the SNDGO, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office.

To kick off its efforts, the government identified five national projects that focused on key industry challenges, including intelligent freight planning in transport and logistics, chronic disease prediction and management in healthcare, and border clearance operations in national safety and security. These form part of nine sectors that have been earmarked for heightened deployment as AI is expected to generate high social and economic value for Singapore. These verticals include manufacturing, finance, cybersecurity, and government.

The national AI strategy also outlined five key enablers that the government deemed essential in building a "vibrant and sustainable" ecosystem for AI innovation and adoption. A robust data architecture, for instance, would be necessary for the public and private sectors to manage and exchange information securely, so AI algorithms can have access to quality datasets for training and testing. This should include the establishment of frameworks to facilitate public-private data collaboration as well as trusted data intermediaries for public-private data exchange. 

In addition, there needs to be a "progressive and trusted environment" in which there is trust in AI technologies so they can support testbedding, development, and deployment efforts, SNDGO said.

A new National AI Office, parked under the SNDGO, has been tasked with setting the national agenda for AI and driving efforts across research, industry, and government stakeholders to work on national AI priorities. 

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "The national AI strategy is a key step in our smart nation journey. 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.

"As a small country, Singapore lacks the scale of large markets and R&D ecosystems, but we can make up for this by building up AI research, and working together cohesively across government, industry, and research, to develop and deploy AI solutions in key sectors," Lee added. "At the same time, we must also 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."

AI framework for financial sector

In launching the national AI strategy, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat also announced plans to create a framework to drive the "responsible adoption" of AI and data analytics amongst financial institutions. 

Dubbed Veritas, the new framework would enable these companies to assess their AI applications against the principles of fairness, ethics, accountability, and transparency, according to industry regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which established these guidelines last year to beef up internal governance on the application of AI and use of data. 

With Veritas, the Singapore government aims to provide financial institutions a verifiable way to integrate these key principles into their AI applications. "It will comprise open source tools that can be applied to different business lines, such as retail banking and corporate finance, and in different markets," said MAS, adding that work on the new framework would kick off by focusing on three areas: customer marketing, risk scoring, and fraud detection. 

A consortium comprising 17 members that include MAS, SGInnovate, EY, and 14 financial institutions including DBS Bank, Bank of China, Standard Chartered Bank, and Unionbank of the Philippines will work on creating the framework. It will release a report on its findings in the second half of next year, the consortium said.

"AI has the potential to transform financial services, but it must be used in a safe and responsible manner. Good governance is essential to AI adoption in the financial industry," MAS's special AI advisor David Hardoon said, adding that the framework and key principles would provide financial institutions the guidelines and toolkits to adopt sound AI governance practices. 

Heng also announced, as part of the national AI strategy, a new partnership between the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) to deepen AI capabilities for building and managing smart estates.

The collaboration, if successful, will see both partners launch a suite of projects to boost technological capabilities in AI, develop new applications, and strengthen Singapore's  smart estates ecosystem by leveraging AI as a key enabling technology.


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