Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has announced the launch of the latest national AI (artificial intelligence) strategy (NAIS) targeted at developing the AI ecosystem in Singapore. As part of the nation’s ongoing Smart Nation initiative, Singapore will embark on the plan by kickstarting projects in key high-value sectors and building a holistic AI ecosystem.
“Five years ago, we announced our vision to be a Smart Nation, using digital technology to transform our Government, economy, and society,” said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat during the Singapore Fintech Festival X Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology 2019. “Today, we are taking the next step in our Smart Nation journey, by launching Singapore’s National Artificial Intelligence Strategy. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is one of the new frontiers in technology, and we can already see its applications in our daily lives. AI chatbots, which mimic natural language, are now widespread. Robo-advisors, powered by AI, can provide financial advice to clients and optimise their assets based on their preferences.”
Mr. Heng emphasized that Singapore is ready to deploy artificial intelligence at a national scale. “We have committed over 500 million dollars to fund activities related to AI under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan.”
As part of the strategy, a new National Artificial Intelligence Office will be created to bring together Singapore’s efforts, according to Mr. Heng. “We aim to be a leader in developing and deploying AI solutions by 2030.”
The strategy will be kickstarted with five national projects, while building the enablers that sustain a vibrant AI ecosystem. One such project relates to healthcare – one of the common challenges for many countries.
“There is great potential for AI to be applied to the prediction, detection and management of chronic diseases. Many seniors suffer from chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension,” said Mr. Heng. “Many might be unaware of their conditions, which, if left untreated, can lead to serious medical complications. AI can be used to analyze clinical and genomic data, medical images, and health behaviors to better assess the risk profile of individual patients – for better prevention and care management. Our first step is to deploy SELENA+, an AI system that is able to detect three major eye conditions – including diabetic eye disease – from retinal photographs accurately and quickly. These solutions can be applied beyond Singapore, to the region and the world.”
The potential to transform financial services
AI also has the potential to transform financial services, but must be used in a safe and responsible manner, stated Mr. Heng. The Monetary Authority of Singapore is therefore working with the industry on a framework called “Veritas”, to provide open source tools for financial institutions to ensure that their use of AI and data analytics remain fair, ethical, accountable and transparent.
Mr. Heng also announced the launch the AI Makerspace, to enable smaller enterprises to jumpstart their AI journey by providing them with access to data, AI libraries, and supercomputing resources.
“Government agencies are also working closely with our universities. With the National University of Singapore to set up a new research institute, the Asian Institute of Digital Finance, which will also house a “Fincubator” to bring fintech research ideas to market; and with the Singapore University of Technology and Design in the development of smart estates. This includes piloting a “Data Lake” – an estate-level dataset, which will provide the foundation to translate AI research into use cases, such as predictive building maintenance. We are setting up a new consortium of research institutes, companies and government agencies to develop batteries that are more sustainable.”
Following Mr. Heng’s speech, several technology companies have expressed their support for the NAIS.
“AI is an exciting field in technology that has the potential to transform the way we conduct business and how societies are run,” said Khor Chern Chuen, managing director for SAP Singapore. “With the NAIS, SAP is fully committed to supporting Singapore’s transition into an Intelligent Nation with embedded technologies into its digital core. As an example, we have our Leonardo Center and SAP.iO Foundry set up here in Singapore to strengthen the country’s innovation ecosystem.”
Venkatesh Srinivasan, group vice president at Oracle Financial Services, noted that AI plays a critical role in drastically reducing origination turn-around times for SMEs. “When data is harnessed through AI and analytics, and enabled with the right APIs, banks will become empowered with insights and agile processes to improve SME experiences,” said Mr. Srinivasan.
Kit Wong, CEO of Lu International, commented that the government's latest initiative is particularly encouraging, as it will foster a greater culture of embracing data and AI in the financial services industry. “Wealth management in the mobile era calls for players in the industry to tap into technologies like AI. This will be the new normal. At LU Global, we have been able to follow in the footsteps of trailblazers like Ping An Group, Lufax and OneConnect, availing ourselves of their proven AI use cases in China to strengthen our own approach for Singapore and Southeast Asia,” said Wong.
Laura McCracken, Executive Vice President, Financial Institutions & FinTech, Wirecard, said that AI will be a core technology that will propel Singapore towards a digitally-ready, smart nation.
“One of the key areas of this digital transformation is the payments industry. Singapore is already making a big push for a cashless society, and over the next few years, AI will radically shape the way financial services, merchants and consumers interact,” said McCracken. “Powered by AI, emerging technologies like chatbots, natural voice processing, and facial and biometric recognition will make payments online and in-store more convenient, seamless, and more importantly, more secure.”
However, despite these benefits, challenges to implementing and adopting AI remains, says McCracken. “The legacy infrastructure that banks use, for example, makes it difficult to integrate new technologies into existing platforms. Other challenges they face include lack of skills, resources and continuous learning programs, lack of thought leadership and lack of advanced analytics and tools. For consumers, trust in AI hinders the adoption of new AI-powered technologies.Today’s announcement is a big step forward to addressing many of these challenges and bringing the ecosystem together. By partnering close with the public and private sectors, Singapore will be able to lead the charge and be a model for a truly cashless society.”