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Singapore aims to carve out niche in AI race led by US, China

Hand pointing at glowing digital brain. Artificial intelligence and future concept. 3D Rendering
Artificial intelligence and future concept. (PHOTO: Getty Creative)

By Yoolim Lee

(Bloomberg) -- Singapore has unveiled an ambitious strategy to become a global leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, attempting to carve out a niche for itself in an increasingly politicised technology.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat outlined five key areas the island nation is targeting for AI applications including in transport and logistics planning, provision of municipal services, detection and management of chronic diseases, personalized education and border control. The country is planning to eventually fully automate immigration clearance for all travelers.

“Singapore is ready to deploy artificial intelligence at a national scale,” Heng, who also serves as finance minister, said in a speech at the annual Singapore Fintech Festival. “We aim to be a leader in developing and deploying AI solutions by 2030.”

Heng said the first step in health care is to deploy SELENA+, an AI system that is able to detect three major eye conditions, including diabetic eye disease, from retina photographs. “These solutions can be applied beyond Singapore, to the region and the world,” he said.

China and the U.S. are two AI superpowers that have dominated research but ongoing trade tensions between them is cooling the international collaboration that underpins technological innovation. Their AI dominance has also raised questions about how smaller countries like Singapore can influence and participate in emerging technologies.

Singapore’s approach is to target specific AI applications for development and deployment at scale in specific industries. It’s investing S$500 million on AI research through 2020 and has attracted U.S. and Chinese companies with policies that support AI research.

Tang Xiao’ou, co-founder of China’s SenseTime Group Ltd., said in a statement Singapore’s national AI strategy will help “establish our Singapore base as a living lab” for research.

“Silicon Valley and Beijing have been global leaders in AI research and developing AI-first startups,” said Andrew Ng, founder and chief executive officer of Landing AI. “Singapore has all the pieces needed to become a regional AI hub.”

Other key details of Singapore’s national AI strategy and Heng’s speech:

  • Singapore will create a new National AI Office to set the agenda for AI and bring together efforts across research, industry and government.

  • Singapore will launch AI Marketplace, a new platform to support small and medium enterprises and startups.

  • The Monetary Authority of Singapore will introduce “Veritas,” a framework for AI governance in the financial industry.

  • The Infocomm Media Development Authority and the Singapore University of Technology and Design will start a new research-industry-government collaboration to leverage AI applications for smart estates.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.