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Singapore taps AI in industry transformation

City-state will develop a national corpus of audio and text files that will enable applications such as chatbots to understand local accents, among a raft of measures to boost artificial intelligence adoption

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The Singapore government is making a concerted push to transform the country’s infocomm and media (ICM) sector, which it has identified as a “key growth multiplier” for other industries in its slowing economy.

The focus areas in Singapore’s newly-launched ICM industry transformation map (ITM) are artificial intelligence (AI), cyber security, immersive media and the internet of things (IoT) – areas that are expected to grow the sector by a compound annual rate of 6% and employ more than 210,000 people by 2020.

ITMs are Singapore’s parlance for roadmaps developed by government agencies to help address issues faced by 23 industries, such as logistics, food manufacturing and electronics, as part of a broader strategy to drive industry transformation. The ICM ITM was developed by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

In growing Singapore’s AI capabilities, the IMDA said it will pave the way for organisations to adopt AI systems, including the development of a National Speech Corpus – a library of audio and text files that enables applications such as chatbots to understand local accents.

The IMDA said such a corpus, which has been difficult for industries to obtain, will help technology suppliers and research institutions develop innovative speech-enabled apps tailored to the needs of different industries.

At the same time, the IMDA will match businesses with suppliers of AI technology and co-fund the development of AI projects and prototypes. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can take also advantage of the SMEs Go Digital programme to learn how to apply AI technologies to solve business problems.

To ensure Singapore has the talent it needs to drive AI adoption, IMDA is starting an AI apprenticeship programme to train 200 professionals over the next three years, with trainees able to hone their skills through attachments at partner organisations and AI courses conducted by educational institutions.

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To groom selected Singapore technology companies, the IMDA is also partnering Microsoft, IBM and Samsung to augment made-in-Singapore tech products and services with capabilities such as AI and machine learning, among other goals.

With an ageing population and tight labour force, Singapore has seen heightened interest in AI in recent months as a way to stem falling productivity and automate otherwise mundane tasks.

In May this year, Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) said it would be investing up to S$150m (US$107m) over five years in a programme to enhance adoption of AI to solve business problems. Private investment firm Marvelstone Group also plans to build an AI hub in Singapore, where AI startups would be able to commercialise their products in a more systematic way.

With retail accounting for nearly 1.4% of Singapore’s GDP, efforts are also being made to help the sector improve productivity and overcome disruptive challenges posed by the rise of e-commerce across the region.

The IMDA said it has worked with Spring Singapore, the national agency tasked with growing local businesses, to develop an industry digital plan for the retail sector, where businesses can ascertain their digital readiness through a checklist and acquire pre-approved digital tools, such as video analytics.

Related to the retail industry is the logistics sector, which has seen a boost in recent years thanks to the growth of online shopping in Singapore. To improve the efficiency of last-mile deliveries, the government will pilot a federated parcel locker network that will enable consumers to collect their purchases within walking distance, without having to wait at home for their packages to arrive.

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