New AI and data science initiatives to solve Singapore's 'grand challenges'

People attend the Innovfest Unbound conference at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
People attend the Innovfest Unbound conference at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The National Research Foundation (NRF) launched a new nation-wide programme to boost Singapore's use of artificial intelligence (AI) on Wednesday (May 3), alongside a new partnership between research institutions for data science.

The NRF will invest up to $150 million over five years in the new initiative, dubbed AI.SG.

It will focus on using AI to solve major problems that affect the society and industry, said its co-chair Professor Ho Teck Hua, deputy president of research and technology at the National University of Singapore.

These "grand challenges," said Prof Ho, must have measurable goals, such as reducing vehicle travel time by 10 per cent, and have a large impact on society.

Under the initiative, Singapore-based research institutions, start-ups and businesses dealing with AI will also work on smaller projects that can have end-user benefits quickly, and invest in the latest AI research. 

Meanwhile, the Singapore Data Science Consortium involves three universities and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) in the training of businesses to use data science and analytics in their operations. 

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, who announced the launch of both AI.SG and the consortium at the two-day Innovfest Unbound conference held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, said there will be three areas of focus: finance, city management solutions and healthcare. 

"AI.SG will do three key things - first, address major challenges that affect society and industry, secondly, invest in deep capabilities to catch the next wave of scientific innovation, and finally, grow AI innovation and adoption in companies," said Dr Yaacob. 

AI.SG is a cross-government initiative driven by a partnership comprising six agencies: the NRF, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDG), the Economic Development Board, the Infocomm Media Development Authority, SGInnovate and the Integrated Health Information Systems. 

The Data Science Consortium, meanwhile, will allow companies keen on applying data science to have a convenient access point to tap on data science researchers from NUS, the Nanyang Technological University, the Singapore Management University and A*Star. 

The consortium will also work closely with AI.SG in AI research to develop more advanced AI tools, given that such research is very data-intensive. This is because one way of developing AI is to feed it large amounts of data to identify patterns and linkages from.