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Deepening national AI capabilities - What is AI Singapore and what does it do

Deepening national AI capabilities – What is AI Singapore and what does it do

Last year, the Singapore Government launched
a national programme, called AI
Singapore
to deepen Singapore’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. But
what exactly does that mean and how is AI Singapore working towards achieving
that objective?

OpenGov attended a presentation at the ongoing Supercomputing Asia Conference by Mr Adhiraj
Saxena, Manager, Industry Innovations, AI Singapore who provided a brief
introduction to the programme and talked in detail about one of the three
pillars of the programme. Based on the presentation and other available
information, we take a look at developments in the programme till date.

Deepening or strengthening capabilities means generating a
pipeline of AI engineers and creative AI entrepreneurs. It implies enabling
Singapore-based companies, whether they are big or small, foreign or local, to
create more value through the use of AI. Value creation could be through
revenue growth, higher bottomline through efficiency improvement or even
competing better with competitors from overseas.

Stakeholders

AI Singapore is driven by a government-wide partnership
involving the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Smart Nation and Digital
Government Office (SNDGO), the Ministry of Health’s Integrated Health
Information Systems (IHiS), the Economic Development Board (EDB), the Infocomm Media
Development Authority (IMDA) and SGInnovate. The NRF set aside S$150 million
to be invested in the programme over five years.

It also brings together four universities, National
University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU),
Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), and Singapore Management
University (SMU), as well as the publicly funded research organisation, Agency
for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

A range of industry and other partners are being brought on
board to further various objectives of the programme. For instance, recently AI Singapore signed
three Memorandum of Understanding
(MOUs) with the National Trades Union
Congress (NTUC), Intel Corporation and PwC Singapore. It also entered
into an agreement with Transwarp Technology, a Big Data and AI Software
provider from China, for joint research, resource sharing and training on
AI-related projects and signed
a letter of intent to collaborate (LIC) with the HK Smart City Consortium.

The programme has three pillars: AI research, AI technology
and AI innovation. Several initiatives have been launched under the pillar of
AI innovation.

Fundamental AI research

This area seeks to address fundamental problems in AI. For
instance, current image recognition algorithms require thousands of images to
recognise a cat. A 3-year-old child needs maybe three of four instance to know
what a cat looks like. Can that gap be bridged?

In addition to the gaps in current AI technology, the area would look at questions like: What are the new AI advances with positive economic and societal impacts?; How can we use AI safely and securely?; How do we design AI to align with ethical, legal and societal principles?

Research interests/ Credit: AI Singapore

Currently, AI Singapore is inviting applications in the
field of advanced research in machine learning, computer vision and natural
language processing, and how AI interacts and collaborates with humans. Researchers
from Singapore-based Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), Research
Institutions (RIs), and publicly-funded Medical Institutions can apply.
Researchers from AI Start-ups in Singapore, private sector and other entities
are eligible to apply as collaborators.

Topics of interest also include, but are not limited to,
techniques to enhance robustness and explainability of AI, learning from small
data, learning from multimodal data, abstraction and generalisation, and AI
with sense-making, hypothesis generation, design and creative capabilities.
Proposals should emphasise on methodology and algorithms, rather than
domain-specific solutions.

(These
are important challenges that AI researchers in Singapore
and worldwide are seeking to address. For instance, explainability of AI would
be crucial when algorithms are being used to drive decisions with significant,
life-altering impact on people, such as hiring of job applicants, or policing and imprisonment. With deep learning which is responsible for much of the
current excitement over AI, it is difficult to understand why and how decisions
were made. This can hamper trust among users, whether organisations or
individuals and also pose ethical dilemmas and legal issues.

Desired technical outcomes include AI systems that learn effectively from small datasets, with fewer training iterations, which are able to demonstrate sense-making abilities, and that exhibit creativity and design abilities.

Applications for this inaugural call are open till 9 April. The
Programme will support
each project for a duration of up to 3 years, providing funding in two tiers: up
to S$ 500,000 (Level 1) and up to S$1 million (Level 2). Inter-institutional
collaborations are encouraged and it is a mandatory requirement for Level 2
project proposals.

AI technology – Grand
Challenges

The AI technology pillar is about co-ordinating grand
challenges that are important issues and problems faced by Singapore and
beyond, and which can be effectively addressed by AI technologies and
innovations.. The three identified priority areas here are healthcare, urban
solutions and fintech.

According to the AI Singapore website a Grand Challenge idea
should be:

  • Inspiring (for the researchers, users and the
    general public)
  • Measurable (with respect to some well-recognised
    criteria for success)
  • Impactful (the solutions will benefit many
    people, socially and/or economically)

Examples of Grand Challenge ideas include an intelligent
personal health assistant for both in- and out-patients, smart traffic light
control system for the whole city, or say a personal digital financial advisor
for the ageing population.

AI innovation

This third pillar focuses on industry innovations. In this
pillar, AI Singapore is speaking to three sets of people. The first group is young
local programmers (not necessarily computer science graduates; they could be
graduates from biology, economics or any other field but should have competency
in coding).

The second is forward looking enterprises, regardless of
sector, who have realised that if they don’t adopt AI, then a competitor who
does will take away their customers and business, either today or tomorrow.

The third group is industry-savvy researchers in Singapore
who have deep expertise in AI and want to see their technology deployed in the
industry to create value.

Three suites of programmes have been created to address the
needs of these three groups.

100 Experiments

To connect industry seeking to solve problems with deep AI
expertise, AI Singapore has launched the 100E or 100 Experiments Programme. If any
enterprise has a problem statement which they are unable to solve with commodity-off-the-shelf
solutions, but for which existing AI technologies can be quickly built with
limited research, then AI Singapore will facilitate matching the statement to
the work areas of researchers from NUS, NTU, SUTD, SMU and A*STAR.

For the matched problem statements, AI Singapore co-funds
the project with the enterprise on a 1:1 basis, up to S$250,000. The
contribution from AI Singapore goes to the principal investigator from the IHL
or the research institute. The expected end-result here is not a paper, but a
minimum viable product (MVP) within 9-18 months.

Possibilities for 100E projects/ Credit: AI Singapore

AI Apprenticeship programme

To develop a talent pipeline, AI Singapore has launched the  AI Apprenticeship programme  (AIAP),
in collaboration with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). It is
the first TechSkills Accelerator(TeSA) company-led
training programme in AI. The programme is intended for recent graduates
(currently defined as someone who has not graduated more than 3 years ago.

Apprentices will be awarded a
stipend of between SGD$2,000 – $3,500/month for the duration of the program.

It is a 9-month full-time
structured training programme comprising 3 months of AI coursework consisting
of classrooms, online, mini-projects, and 6 months of on-the-job training on a
real-world AI problem. The focus is on live projects and candidates are
expected to come with intermediate level programming skills. They should also
be familiar with cloud computing and existing cloud providers , as well as big
data technologies such as Hadoop and Spark.

The AIAP programme is designed
by industry practitioners with a focus on certain key aspects of an AI/machine
learning systems: 1) Data collection, cleansing and feature engineering; 2) Selection,
training and tuning of machine learning and deep learning algorithms; and 3)
Designing, implementing and managing a High Performance Computing (HPC)
infrastructure to build Reproducible AI workflows.

In his presentation, Mr Saxena
said that the ideal combination would be when a company has a 100E project and
is also seeking to develop a talent pipeline. In that case, they would not only
get a MVP, but also develop a pipeline of AI engineers who can take the MVP to
full production.

The first AIAP application closed
on 31 December, 2017, with a total of 144 applications received.

Marketplace

The final programme under AI innovations is a marketplace, kelaberetiv.aisingapore.org. It intends
to meet the needs of enterprises looking for collaborators, such as system
integrators or HPC service providers for an AI project it wants to deploy in
Singapore. AI companies can also search for collaborators and business
opportunities.

The ultimate aim is to bring together the AI community in
Singapore – companies, startups, researchers, students, professionals – to
collaborate, find research and business opportunities and talent. It consists
of an online news magazine where the community is encouraged to share their stories,
and a forum for discussion.

Applications being explored

Mr Saxena talked about some of the sectors which have
expressed interested in adopting AI. The companies range from the medical
industry (medtech, hospitals, diagnosticians and even a Traditional Chinese
Medicine company) to matchmaking services to manufacturing (for example for
predictive maintenance) and logistics (for route optimisation).

There’s also been interest in using AI for detecting fake
news and predicting if there will be fake news after a certain event so that
there is no unnecessary social unrest.

Among the many applications, AI Singapore is viewing Robotic
Process Automation (RPA) as the lowest hanging fruit. It helps automate tedious
business tasks through software robots that mimic the activities of the human
beings. Companies in sectors, such as accounting and legal, with well-structured
backend processes, can reap significant benefits from RPA. In fact, AI
Singapore is now maintaining and developing a
RPA tool
TagUI –
which can be used for automating user interactions with web browsers or other
applications. The intention is to add AI capabilities to TagUI while
keeping it open-source.

Key features of the tool include cross-platform
implementation (macOS, Linux, Windows), integration with R & Python for big
data and AI use cases, execution of automation flows in 20+ human languages or
JavaScript. AI Singapore is looking for developers and users who are keen
to use and extend the tool, in particular, for the SME ecosystem, where commercial
RPA tools are often too costly for them to acquire.

The above initiatives are the first steps in AI Singapore's journey as it sets out to bring together all the different players in the ecosystem and catalyse, synergise and boost Singapore's AI capabilities. 

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