Parliament: Government to upsize research funds to meet national needs in smart solutions

Investments in developing frontier technology can help in address problems faced in key sectors such as healthcare.
Investments in developing frontier technology can help in address problems faced in key sectors such as healthcare.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A bigger push for research and development in frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber security will be made with an upsized fund so that "smart" urban mobility and healthcare services can quickly become a reality here.

The Government will allocate a total of $660 million to R&D in Singapore's service and digital economy sector, up from the initial $360 million allocated. The fund seeks to meet national needs in smart urban mobility, healthcare information communications, natural language processing and cyber-security solutions, among other areas.

The funds will come from the $19 billion National Research Foundation's Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 plan, first announced in 2016.

Announcing the upsized fund in Parliament on Monday (March 4), Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran said: "We must sustain this research and innovation momentum that underpins our Digital Economy strategies."

Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister-in-Charge of Cyber Security, was speaking during the debate on the budget of the Ministry of Communications and Information. The topping up is necessary, as the initial $360 million has been almost fully committed.

The minister was replying to questions from several MPs, including Communications and Information Government Parliamentary Committee chairman Cedric Foo (Pioneer), and Nominated MP Douglas Foo, who had asked about Singapore's plans to innovate in a digital economy and how the Government plans to help businesses benefit from digital technologies.

In addition to developing capabilities in frontier technology areas, Mr Iswaran said that Singapore's investments in R&D have helped to address national priorities too.

He gave the example of how the Government is currently working with academic and industry partners to solve major problems faced in key sectors like healthcare.

The minister also said that the Government will continue to expand the SMEs Go Digital programme to include AI and cloud-based solutions.

Announced in 2017, the programme is an ongoing initiative to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) transform digitally to stay in business amid disruptions to their business models brought about by new technologies.


On Monday, Mr Iswaran also announced plans to roll out AI and cloud-based solutions to every sector here by 2020.

SMEs Go Digital has so far helped about 4,000 out of 200,000 SMEs in Singapore in basic automation by providing access to proven digital solutions, consultancy and project management services.

It replaced a more basic seven-year-old iSprint initiative, which provided similar subsidies and basic tech advice, benefiting about 8,000 SMEs.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat mentioned in his Budget speech on Feb 18 that SMEs can continue to look forward to having up to 70 per cent of the cost of more tools such as cyber security and AI subsidised.

In wrapping up his speech, Mr Iswaran reiterated that the digital economy presented many opportunities and called for businesses, workers and Singaporeans to come together to seize them, as the Government cannot do so alone.

He said: "This is not an easy task nor is it the sole responsibility of Government.

"Indeed ultimately, every business, every worker and every citizen has to step up, overcome the challenges, and take ownership of their learning and digital transformation."