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Dr Janil Puthucheary on the importance of Investments

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.

Investments

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.

People

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.

Ideas

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.”

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