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Salesforce opens AI research outfit in Singapore

Cloud-based software giant Salesforce will train up to 100 postgraduate students over three years in artificial intelligence technology

Salesforce has opened an artificial intelligence (AI) research centre in Singapore to bolster its expertise in the burgeoning field, and in a region where more enterprises and governments are leaning on AI to improve business and society.

The first of its kind outside the US, the new facility will train up to 100 postgraduate students over the next three years in deep learning, machine learning and natural language processing, through partnerships with local universities.

Speaking at an opening event and panel session at Salesforce’s Singapore office, Richard Socher, chief scientist at Salesforce, noted that Singapore was a “natural choice” for the company, given the country’s growing efforts to support AI developments and its ability to think about AI issues in a thoughtful manner.

“AI right now is in a dual state,” Socher said. “On one hand, we still need to do fundamental research to understand what intelligence really means and to push autonomous capabilities forward, while on the other hand we can already build valuable technology for businesses.”

Socher added that researchers at the new facility will also be able to collaborate with their peers in the US and others around the world to bring the benefits of AI to Salesforce customers.

IT leaders from some of the region’s largest and most innovative companies were present at the opening event to share more about what they are doing with AI.

They include Singapore Airlines, whose senior vice-president for IT George Wang revealed that the carrier has been AI to predict flight delays, and e-commerce startup Shopee which is using machine learning to detect fraud.

The Singapore government, too, has been using AI to improve citizen services and detect fraudsters who may be profiteering from government funding schemes. It is also supporting the development of AI use cases by opening up access to government datasets through initiatives such as data.gov.sg.

S. Iswaran, Singapore’s minister for communications and information, said Salesforce’s new research facility is an “endorsement of the work that we are doing in Singapore”.

“A lot of us in Singapore, both in government and the private sector, have made significant efforts in the application and use of AI,” he said, noting that the AI Singapore initiative, for example, has brought together industry, research capabilities and startups to solve real world problems using AI.

AI Singapore was formed in May 2017 with an initial investment of up to S$150m over five years from the National Research Foundation, in a bid to enhance AI adoption in Singapore and address major challenges in the country using AI.

Since then, the government has also introduced a talent programme to broaden access to AI skills and train young AI professionals who can look forward to job attachments and courses under an apprenticeship programme.

Earlier this year, it released an AI governance framework to help businesses tackle the ethical and governance challenges arising from the growing use of AI across industries.

Read more about AI in ASEAN

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics

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