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Singapore to triple AI talent pool, build 'iconic' AI site as part of updated national strategy

SINGAPORE: Over the next three to five years, Singapore aims to more than triple the number of artificial intelligence (AI) practitioners here to 15,000, and establish an “iconic” site to nurture the country’s AI community.

These form part of Singapore’s updated National AI Strategy (NAIS) 2.0, launched by the government on Monday (Dec 4).

To grow the talent pool, the AI Apprenticeship Programme, from which 300 Singaporeans have graduated as of September, will be redesigned and scaled up. The government will also work with industry AI product development teams to expand company attachments.

The government will intensify the promotion of AI adoption across all enterprises, and develop targeted AI training programmes to upskill the workforce using the Industry Transformation Maps and Jobs Transformation Maps.

At the same time, Singapore will continue to welcome global AI talent. A dedicated team will be set up to identify and engage world-class AI creators and anchor them in the local ecosystem.

A dedicated site at a yet-to-be-announced location will bring these AI creators and users together to form the kind of tight-knit knowledge community critical for innovation, according to the government’s report on NAIS 2.0.

Recent breakthroughs, especially in generative AI, demand renewed focus to define the country’s AI strategy, the government said.

Speaking at the launch of NAIS 2.0, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said that while discussions about AI’s potential benefits and threats are not new, the world is headed into “unchartered territory”.

“Up to now, AI has been mainly about pattern recognition,” he said.

“But in time to come, we will have AI systems with agency and with transactional abilities. We will have machines with human-like cognitive abilities and the capacity for self-awareness and independent decision-making.”

This will fundamentally reshape humanity’s way of life, with profound implications for societies, he said.

The government said it needs to work with AI producers and users in a more concerted way because “responsible development and deployment do not happen by chance”.

It also acknowledged intensifying global competition around scarce AI resources and talent, and the importance of AI to overcome Singapore’s labour and productivity challenges for economic growth.

Singapore should aspire to be “a pace-setter – to be a global leader in choice AI areas that are economically impactful, and serve the public good”, the NAIS 2.0 report stated.

The government’s revised national strategy is the result of consultations with more than 300 local and international experts and organisations.

Singapore’s first NAIS in 2019 saw the country embark on national AI projects in education, healthcare, logistics, security and municipal services.

NAIS 2.0 represents a shift from flagship projects to a systems approach, from AI as a “good to have” opportunity to a “must know” necessity, and develops Singapore’s ambition to be a world leader in the field, the report stated.

Apart from talent development and attraction, the wide-ranging strategy identifies 15 actions across domains like industry, research, infrastructure, the regulatory environment and international partnerships.

These actions aim to meet NAIS 2.0’s goals of developing “peaks of excellence” in AI, and empowering people and businesses to use AI with confidence.

The government will encourage AI “peaks of excellence” in key domains. These include Singapore’s leading economic sectors of manufacturing, financial services, transport and logistics, and biomedical sciences, and the “smart nation” priority areas of healthcare, education and manpower, trust and safety, and public service delivery.

Mr Wong acknowledged concerns about the impact of AI on jobs and livelihoods, including knowledge-based work like research, coding and writing.

“We don’t think this will mean a jobless future. But it does require significant changes in job roles, and more training for humans to harness AI effectively,” he said.

The government plans to invest significantly in adult education and training to reskill and upskill workers, he added.

This will go towards building a “thriving AI industry”. Currently, Singapore is home to more than 80 active AI researchers, 150 AI research and development as well as product teams, and 1,100 AI start-ups.

To make Singapore a more conducive place for AI value creation, the government will increase the availability of high-performance computing power and access to data.

This involves ensuring sufficient carbon budget is allocated towards data centres, and in the medium to longer term, charting a roadmap towards the growth of net-zero data centres powered by renewable energy.

The government will also selectively unlock more public sector data for AI development that serves the public good, setting up a “data concierge” to facilitate such access.

At the same time, the country will build up capabilities in privacy-enhancing technologies to allow safe and trusted data sharing.

Mr Wong also acknowledged the risks and challenges of AI, which can be misused for deepfakes, scams, cyberattacks and to spread misinformation.

He said there is a temptation to impose strict regulations now, but this is not ideal as future uses of AI are hard to predict and regulatory overreach can stifle innovation.

Singapore’s approach is to find the balance between encouraging experimentation and innovation while putting in place the necessary guardrails, he said.

The government’s “fit-for-purpose” regulatory environment will include regular reviews and adjustments of the country’s Model AI Governance Framework and AI Verify – an AI governance testing framework and software toolkit developed by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

“Ideally, governance for AI ought to be global – because AI is decentralised and everywhere,” said Mr Wong.

But international partnerships are harder to achieve in the current geopolitical environment, where AI is increasingly seen as a zero-sum game.

Singapore will do its part by working with a wide range of international partners to set “rules of the road” for AI, develop research and technical collaborations, and support multilateral platforms, he said.

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