AI Singapore was mooted to enable Singapore and Singaporeans to benefit from growth opportunities in the digital economy.
The term Artificial Intelligence (AI) was first coined by John McCarthy, a Dartmouth Professor and one of the founders of the AI discipline. Fast forward to more than 60 years later and one can find AI disrupting almost every industry especially retail, E-commerce, and entertainment. Companies such as Lazada, Amazon, and Netflix offer highly personalised shopping experiences, which have resulted in higher customer engagement, higher purchases, and lower churn.
AI Singapore (AISG) was launched in 2017 as a national programme to boost Singapore’s AI capabilities. A key initiative under the Services and Digital Economy (SDE) domain of their Research Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, AISG was mooted to enable Singapore and Singaporeans to fully benefit from the growth opportunities in the digital economy. It seeks to realise this in three areas: AI industry innovation, research, and technology development.
Chief Scientist of AISG, Deputy President (Research and Technology), and Professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Chen Tsuhan shares that despite their interest in various methodologies, AISG is particularly keen in the areas of explainable AI, data-set learning, and AI with sense-making appeal.
“AI has commonly been thought of as this black box that does all the magic,” he says. “You throw all the data in and deep learning technologies do the work for you. However, these deep learning technologies are neither always deep nor learning. In explainable AI, there is much more that we need to understand: why it works, fails, and more. We want to be able to explain AI as we move about.”
“In learning from small data sets, consider how when a little baby grows up, he/she recognises that he/she wants an ice-cream when he/she sees it without the need for lots of training data. How then do we create AI that does the same, and is able to pick this up along the way rather than require copious amounts of data to do so? And finally, can AI recognise things in terms of common sense and with a sense-making appeal rather than rely on people telling it what to do? As of today, our technologies are not even close to that. So there is much work to be done.”
AISG had defined grand challenges as a set of problems or issues faced (by Singapore or the world) which can be effectively addressed with AI technologies and innovations. By surveying grand challenges in three vertical domains: healthcare, urban solutions, and finance, AISG is able to work with partners on creating measurable social and economic impact in terms of topics/issues that align with national priorities. The topic of AI-empowered chronic care or disease management and well-being in healthcare was its grand challenge launched on 4 June 2018.
“It is aligned with the United Nations third sustainable goal which is to ensure healthy lives and provide wellbeing for all at all ages,” says Professor Leong Tze-Yun, Professor of Practice of Computer Science at the School of Computing, NUS, and Director of AI Technology at AISG. “The aspirational goal is that in 12-15 years, and empowered by the primary care teams, we can path the complications that accost the three highs (3Hs) of high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and hypertension in Singapore.” This is important because the 3Hs are the three most chronic diseases in Singapore with devastating complications (e.g.: heart attacks, stroke, food and eye complications, and renal failure) if not managed well.”
“For AI to help primary care teams stop or slow disease progression and complication development in 3H patients by 20 per cent over five years, we have engaged stakeholders, developed a competitive research programme, and created a series of ideation workshops in the past year.”
AISG’s flagship programme 100 Experiments (100E) solves industries’ AI problem statements and help them build their own AI team. An organisation can propose 100E problem statements where no commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) AI solution exists, but they can potentially be solved by Singapore’s ecosystem of researchers and AI Singapore’s engineering team within nine to 18 months. AISG will then provide 1:1 funding of up to S$250,000 per 100E project for the Principal Investigators (PI) from Singapore’s autonomous universities and A*STAR research institutes to work on the organisation’s problem statement. The organisation is required to match the funding amount through in-kind (AI/engineering/IT/domain manpower) and cash contributions.
“We team the researchers with engineers,” says Mr Laurence Liew, Director for AI Industry Innovation at AISG. “Some of these engineers come from our AI Apprenticeship Programme (AIAP). This is a nine-month programme with two months of self-directed learning. In this programme, we work closely with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) initiative, and industry partners to provide content and technology so that the projects they do are real-world and the skills they learn increase their employability.”
“These apprentices are already graduates with up to three years working experience. We direct and guide them on what they need to know to become AI engineers and pair them with researchers to work on a real-world project based on 100E. We fund S$250,000, the companies fund the other S$250,000. These apprentices are working on half-a million dollar real-world projects and are released back to industry after they are done.”
One of several projects includes Surbana Jurong’s Lift Maintenance System (LMS) which supports Town Councils in monitoring 25,000 lifts across 10,000 public housing blocks in Singapore. LMS collects data on the lifts’ performance and uses predictive analytics to identify potential issues before they occur and in turn, reduce lifts’ maintenance downtime. Another project involves credit scoring in microfinancing for short-term loans.
AI Talent Boosting Initiatives
Two new initiatives developed by AISG to nurture a strong pipeline of AI talent in Singapore are AI for Industry (AI4I) and AI for Everyone (AI4E). These will equip 12,000 Singaporeans over the next three years with AI knowledge.|
AI4I will help participants better understand the use of AI and acquire basic programming skills, to prepare them for future job opportunities, career advancements and the digital revolution.
Participants will receive a “Foundations in AI” certification upon completing the three-month “Data Scientist in Python” course comprising of 20 carefully selected modules. While AI4E helps to dispel fears that AI will replace jobs, and shares how AI can help them work more productively. The three-hour workshop helps participants become more aware of AI and how AI can be used in their daily lives and companies.
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