• Puay-Lin Yeo

How can Singapore drive adoption of Artificial Intelligence to carve a competitive edge?


On 28 Feb 2019, Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan has told the press that Singapore will “double down” on its efforts to build up its artificial intelligence (AI) sector and equip its workforce to use these tools to “participate meaningfully” in a future where the economy is driven by the technology.

According to the Impact of AI on the world economy by the McKinsey Global Institute published in September 2018, A.I. has the potential to incrementally add 16 percent or around $13 trillion by 2030 to current global economic output - an annual average contribution to productivity growth of about 1.2 percent between now and 2030. Hence, the ability to adopt A.I. quickly would not just yield an immediate competitive advantage but also give a head-start for scaling up the A.I. ladder.

Every country would like to harness the potential of A.I.to build their competitive edge, the big question remains - how to drive adoption across business and industries? There is no one size fits all solution, but there are key areas which Singapore can consider as part of the A.I. strategy.

(1) Define Industry specific needs and road map

A.I. consist of a broad spectrum of branches in the area of machine learning, intelligent automation, robotics, natural language processing, data analytics etc. The technology in its raw form is generic and requires industry specific adaptation to be useful in business.

Businesses looking at adopting A.I. have a hard time trying to assess an array of disparate A.I. products to build their roadmap. This can be challenging for large corporate with a technology planning department and almost impossible for SMEs which lack such internal capability.

Hence an industry specific A.I. framework and roadmap that is evolving would help guide businesses in ascertaining their needs and craft their own adoption. Government can create incentives around the roadmap to encourage business to increase the breadth and depth of adoption.

(2) Building an ecosystem

The success of technology innovation powerhouse like Silicon Valley lies in the foundation of strong and vibrant ecosystems. Ecosystems allow different players from startups, large technology firms, consultants, industry professionals, accelerators, education institutions to participate and have a free flow of ideas.

Creating a vibrant ecosystem requires actions from many levels, it cannot be driven only by the government alone. Getting the right people involve would help to kick-start the ecosystems - leaders who have had success with past innovations, technical experts and consultants would be able to work on creating topics, network groups etc.

(3) Training talents

For successful adoption of A.I. across industries, there must be sufficient talents to support the ambition. In the global competition for A.I. talents, it would make good sense to grow internal talents while attracting exceptional external talents.

Although A.I. is a technology, it does not mean that only technology talents are required. To enable the application of A.I. into industries, talents are required in many areas from business transformation, process improvement, business data analysis, change management are required. The drive towards talent building has to be holistic taking care of all aspect of the business transformation.

(4) Supportive regulatory framework

Last but not least, a very important enabler for new technology adoption is a regulatory framework that allows it to thrive. Many industries like Financial Services, Pharmaceuticals, Medical are heavily regulated as required to safeguard public interest. Regulatory uncertainty can result in businesses unwilling to embark on such transformation journey fearing that new regulations would become a showstopper down the road. A very good start is the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announcing the FinTech Regulatory Sandbox to encourage FinTech experimentation so that promising innovations can be tested in the market and have a chance for wider adoption, in Singapore and abroad. More confidence can be instilled in businesses across industries to take this bold step if regulatory can be encouraging.

With A.I. rapidly advancing as we speak, time and tide wait for no man. How Singapore can be nimble and quick to embrace A.I. would help ensure our sustainability, relevance and competitive edge in at least the next 20 years ahead.

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