Dr Janil Puthucheary on the importance of Investments, People and Ideas for Singapore’s Smart Nation vision
The inaugural Supercomputing Asia 2018 Conference organised by the National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC) Singapore has a special focus on the intersection of high-performance computing (HPC) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the practical applications that come out of that.
In his opening address, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information, and Ministry of Education talked about how Singapore is looking to leverage the opportunities provided by HPC and AI and the role of investments, talent and ideas in realising the potential of these technologies and achieving Singapore Smart Nation vision.
He described the Smart Nation vision as an idea to be put in place, while developing underlying infrastructure and capabilities and imagining the different types of products and services that are going to be built to take advantage of the digital economy and disruptions that may take place.
“We fully understand that whatever we are planning for our Smart Nation journey, we are only able to see the tip of the iceberg of the future possibilities,” Dr Puthucheary said.
While having the long-term vision is essential, Singapore needs to start small with whatever it currently has. Then it has to iterate and go forward, building the type of interoperability and resilience that will allow growth.
The type of transformation that Singapore is seeking to undergo today is something that Singapore has undergone several times before in its past, in many areas, such as marine off-shore, Defence, Independence, Bio-Medical Initiatives, or in the Finance sector.
But the pace of transformation in today’s digital, disruptive economy is unprecedented. The requirement for speed brings with it the need for hefty computing capabilities.
Singapore has been investing in supercomputers since 1988. A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research)’s Institute of High Performance Computing has been facilitating the development of products and services using supercomputers for more than two decades.
Dr Puthucheary highlighted that the NSCC has also gone beyond its role as a service provider to actively engage in multi-party, multi-stakeholder innovative projects in various institutions. These projects have generated academic research and economic dividends by providing problem solving and data analysis solutions that would be otherwise impossible.
“It would have been impossible too, if the early investments, capabilities and infrastructure were not done with a certain leap into the unknown, and if we did not have certain faith in the possibilities that were afforded,” he said.
Those early investments were crucial because each phase of the developmental journey builds on the success of the previous.
Today, Singapore wants to take the opportunities afforded by High Performance Computing, AI and the Smart Nation vision, and drive these technologies and opportunities to every corner of the economy and society. It wants a 100% inclusive society.
In line with this objective, the Government launched AI Singapore in May 2017 - a partnership among the Government, research institutions, AI companies and start-ups - to develop these Artificial Intelligence products, create tools and develop talent. A strong, deep and long-standing pipeline of talent is necessary for reaching those desired outcomes.
To fulfil the vision that AI Singapore is part of, Singapore needs a long, multi-decade horizon of talent development – “Students that are inspired, academics doing research, the professionals that work alongside them, and industry development visions”.
Dr Puthucheary talked about the Asia Pacific HPC-AI competition at the Conference, which is providing participants with a platform to showcase their expertise.
Dr Puthucheary spoke about one more component required for Singapore to achieve its vision.
In the absence of natural resources, it is not enough to be open to investments and people. Singapore also has to be open to the best ideas in the world and allow these ideas to catalyse and feature in its future.
Singapore has to hold on to these ideas, and make sure that they are supported institutionally, philosophically, and also from an investment point-of-view.
“We have started on this journey, but we have a long way to go with many things we need to do to maximally exploit the opportunities afforded to us. But I think we are off to a running start, given that we have been able to do these types of things for many years,” Dr Puthucheary said.
“I am very encouraged by the many people I have been introduced to so far – the people who have been here from the start (one that I know of has been here for over 10 years but is still finding ways to attract PhD students) and people that still have the vision, passion, enthusiasm, personality for, and the type of personal engagement with these technical subjects. These are the people that we are going to need as we look forward to growing this industry, and growing this opportunity for Singapore and for the world at large.”