Singapore tops list of cities most ready for AI disruption

Singapore is one of the few governments in the world to have developed an AI governance framework to address ethical dilemmas.
Singapore is one of the few governments in the world to have developed an AI governance framework to address ethical dilemmas.PHOTO: ST FILE

It stands out for its whole-of-government view on deploying AI across society

Singapore is the city most prepared for the next wave of technology disruption that will be brought about by artificial intelligence (AI), according to a new index on AI readiness that ranks 105 global cities.

The technique that allows machines to learn from enormous sets of data is expected to bring new conveniences in modern living and economic benefits. But there is the risk of jobs being displaced, people's privacy being exposed and inequality being perpetuated through AI being fed biased data, with cities at various stages of readiness for the new future.

In determining how prepared global cities are for this disrupted future, New York-based research outfit Oliver Wyman Forum's inaugural Global Cities AI Disruption Index, released yesterday, scored cities on 31 metrics across four broad categories: vision, activation ability, asset base and growth trajectory.

Singapore received the best overall score of 75.8, bolstered by its strong performance in the vision category, which measures the presence of plans to respond to technology changes and plans to upgrade labour skills and infrastructure such as mobile networks.

"Singapore stands out for its vision; it has a whole-of-government view on how AI is to be deployed across the society, and has a high-level steering committee for this," said Mr Jacob Hook, managing partner of management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, which owns the research outfit.

It is one of the few governments in the world to have developed an AI governance framework to address ethical dilemmas, he added.

Singapore's framework to promote the ethical use of AI was released at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

The Singapore Government will also set up an inter-agency task force to study how Singapore can grow its AI capabilities and become a trusted global hub for testing and deploying AI solutions.

Singapore also did well in the asset base category, which assesses the amount of intellectual property, labour productivity, technology talent, venture capital investments and the education level of the population, among other things.

Specifically, $900 million has been allocated to research and development in AI, robotics and supercomputers under the National Research Foundation's five-year fund, which will last until 2021.

Ongoing AI projects here include systems to identify patients predisposed to chronic diseases such as diabetes, robots to perform menial tasks and wearable sensors to provide early intervention for heart failure.

Other recent developments that worked in Singapore's favour include its data protection and cyber security laws, and stepped-up investments in cyber security technologies in the public sector to better safeguard data, the new oil of the digital economy.

The other cities in the top 10 on the index are London (75.6), New York (72.7), San Francisco (71.9), Paris (71), Stockholm (70.4), Amsterdam (68.6), Boston (68.5), Berlin (67.3), and Sydney (67.3).

Cities in China, known for the widespread roll-out of AI tech-nologies, did not appear in the overall top 10. They were pulled down by relatively lower scores in most of the categories.


But Chinese cities Shenzhen, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hangzhou scored the highest in the growth trajectory category, which measures how fast technology infrastructures evolve, city administration effectiveness and the size of venture capital investment.

Comparatively, Singapore did not do as well in this category.

Shenzhen is home to telecommunications equipment giant Huawei, which is leading the world in 5G technology developments, and Hangzhou is home to global e-commerce titan Alibaba.

Alibaba's AI-powered technology is also automating traffic management in Hangzhou, such as changing traffic lights in favour of ambulances.

Mr Hook said China's high tolerance for privacy-invasive technologies has led to the introduction of citizen surveillance systems which employ facial and gait recognition technology. This, he argued, encourages innovation and "creates a strong runway for Chinese cities to deploy AI, giving them a stronger growth trajectory".

Singapore University of Technology and Design communication and technology professor Lim Sun Sun said the AI race will likely be won by cities with robust research ecosystems, comprising universities and private sector firms.

"Then, they become natural magnets for talent, which is indispensable for the AI race," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore tops list of cities most ready for AI disruption'. Print Edition | Subscribe