Debate on ministries' budgets: Prime Minister's Office

Parliament: Inter-agency task force on AI to be set up

Group will study how to grow artificial intelligence capabilities, improve services

Pre-empting cyber attacks, predicting when public transport will break down and detecting stress in students - these are among "urban scenarios" where artificial intelligence (AI) could potentially be used to improve government services, said Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan.

In Parliament yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan, who is also the Foreign Minister, announced that the Government will set up an inter-agency task force dedicated to AI.

The task force will study how Singapore can grow its AI capabilities and transform itself to be a centre for AI solutions to be developed.

He was speaking during the debate on the budget for the Prime Minister's Office, which the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group comes under.

Dr Balakrishnan said the new task force comes in the wake of other AI efforts that Singapore has made, like the Model Artificial Intelligence Governance Framework, which Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran unveiled in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"We need to double down on these efforts. This year, an inter-agency task force will study how Singapore will develop AI as a strategic capability and become a trusted global hub for test-bedding, deploying and scaling up AI solutions, especially in the context of a highly urbanised city like ours," said the minister.

He was replying to Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer), who is chairman of the Communications and Information Government Parliamentary Committee. Mr Foo had asked how Singapore's Smart Nation efforts will keep the country relevant and competitive.

The result of these AI efforts will mean "new and better services" for Singaporeans, whether from the Government or private sector, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Citing findings from consultancy firm McKinsey, he said AI can be used to optimise traffic light networks and maintain public infrastructure. AI can also help detect students' stress early and recommend learning material appropriate to their abilities, said Dr Balakrishnan.

He added there are also AI applications in the finance, logistics and cyber-security fields, and the Government hopes to co-develop such solutions with firms here.

He noted that AI has already allowed people to reap benefits from services such as alerting users about credit card fraud, voice assistants and language translation. The Government, too, has been using AI, like in transcribing this year's debates on ministries' budgets, he said.

It will also take steps to build know-how in AI to enable workers to use AI tools, he added. "This means teaching computational thinking and data literacy in schools, and training adults in data science and AI skills."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2019, with the headline Inter-agency task force on AI to be set up . Subscribe