Singapore Fintech Festival

S'pore to invest additional $180m to accelerate AI research; launches two new AI programmes

NovA! was unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the sixth edition of the Singapore FinTech Festival on Nov 8.
NovA! was unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the sixth edition of the Singapore FinTech Festival on Nov 8.PHOTO:BLOOMBERG/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Two new public artificial intelligence (AI) programmes have been launched as part of the Republic's strategy to use the technology to effect social and economic good.

These come as Singapore allocates an additional $180 million to accelerate AI research, on top of the $500 million it has committed to it so far.

The first programme is the National AI Programme in Finance. It includes an industry-wide AI platform -  dubbed NovA! - which generates insights about financial risks.

NovA! is a collaboration between Singapore-based banks and local fintech firms, and aims to help financial institutions better assess companies’ environmental impact and identify emerging environmental risks.

The initiative will also better enable financial institutions to assess sustainability-related investments and associated risks such as greenwashing, which is when companies exaggerate or falsify their environmental credentials.

Experts have said roughly US$100 trillion (S$135 trillion) of climate-aligned funding will be needed to achieve the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels.

More than 450 firms in the global financial industry at Glasgow’s COP26 climate change conference last week committed to align over US$130 trillion worth of assets under their control with a net-zero emissions target by 2050. 

NovA! was unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the sixth edition of the Singapore FinTech Festival x Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology on Monday (Nov 8). He launched Singapore's national AI strategy at the 2019 version of the flagship fintech and innovation event.

Singapore has five national AI programmes, noted Mr Heng, among them Selena+, an AI system under the healthcare programme that detects major eye conditions from retinal scans.

"Selena+ managed to achieve a similar diagnostic accuracy as experienced human graders. We have since rolled this project out nationwide, to screen seniors and diabetic patients for eye diseases more efficiently. This has allowed us to provide early intervention more quickly and accurately," said Mr Heng.

The second AI programme that was launched on Monday is the National AI Programme in Government, which aims to improve the delivery of public sector services.

"One area is in the use of AI text analytics for better sense-making of the large amount of feedback that our front-line agencies receive each year. This will allow us to better understand the pain points and serve citizens better," said Mr Heng.

AI will also be used to improve job-matching on the national jobs portal, MyCareersFuture, he added. "This is particularly salient during the pandemic, where many have been displaced and are looking to switch to other industries. We are using AI to develop more personalised jobs and skills recommendations. Based on our pilot, this new tool has improved total job placements by 20 per cent."

The Government Technology Agency, or GovTech, is developing JumpStart, an AI-enabled platform with recommendation engines to complement career coaches. Jobseekers can access JumpStart’s recommendations from a range of Government products, including the MyCareersFuture portal. The platform has facilitated more than 2,000 job placements so far.

Mr Heng added that Singapore's AI strategy also involves building a vibrant ecosystem for sustained innovation and a strong commitment to AI research and development (R&D).

He said the Republic will invest more funds in resource-efficient AI: "As a small country, our datasets are also small. So we need to better train our machines to learn from small but high-quality datasets.

"Our investment in AI R&D is not large relative to global investments in this field. But by focusing on where we can make the greatest impact, we can make every effort count."

It is also critical for various stakeholders to work together, he said.

“This is a common thread that runs through our national AI Strategy, as we seek to apply AI widely and invest systematically.”

Mr Heng noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of change of science and technology. 

Singapore can maximise the impact of innovation in a time of rapid change by building momentum around technologies that can yield a step change and apply them widely, he said. 

It must also create the right market factors for innovation to scale, and double down on ensuring that innovation improves lives, he added.

He noted that Singapore is contributing to the ethical use of AI in various ways and one example is Veritas – a framework for financial institutions to ensure that their use of AI and data analytics is fair, ethical, accountable and transparent.

The Republic will also launch eGiro on Monday. Giro is a direct debit mechanism that allows an individual to set up a standing instruction for a billing organisation to make deductions from his or her bank account. 

There are around one million Giro applications per year and the current application process is manual. It takes on average three weeks for applications to be processed, and up to six weeks if further clarifications are needed.

“So participating banks and billing organisations have come together to digitalise the process – to significantly shorten processing times and improve user experience," said Mr Heng, urging organisations here to be part of eGiro.