Everyone should learn, experiment with AI solutions: Vivian

Singapore

ARTIFICIAL intelligence (AI) will have the same role tomorrow as word processing today, according to Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-charge of Singapore's Smart Nation initiative.

To double down on its efforts, the government will launch a study to make the Republic a global AI hub, while helping workers and small businesses here to pick up AI skills.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs, outlined his vision for AI - a technology that "we believe will greatly improve our lives and our economy" - as Committee of Supply debates began on Thursday.

This was even as Janil Puthucheary, Minister-in-charge of the Government Technology Agency, said that the public sector will keep reviewing its protocols for data protection.

Dr Balakrishnan told the House that data collected by an expanding digital infrastructure will let services for citizens "become more personalised, more tailor-made to the individual needs of citizens, and... more responsive", helped by better AI use.

He named finance, logistics and cyber security as key domains for AI applications, and noted that there are plans to boost access to data and AI tools, "so that everyone can learn and experiment with AI solutions".

These plans include having government work with small and medium-sized enterprises and other companies to adopt AI and apply it to situations relevant to their businesses.

Singapore will also foster local AI capabilities, said Dr Balakrishnan. "This means teaching computational thinking and data literacy in schools, and training adults in data science and artificial intelligence skills."

Calling AI a "general purpose technology", he said that "we want our workforce to be able to use AI tools to participate meaningfully in the future AI-driven economy, to secure good jobs, improve productivity and raise wages".

Dr Balakrishnan added that an inter-agency taskforce will study this year how Singapore can develop AI "as a strategic capability" and become "a trusted global hub for test-bedding, for deploying and scaling up AI solutions, especially in the context of a highly urbanised city like ours".

He cited recent Smart Nation initiatives such as the roll-out of a national electronic invoicing framework and unified terminals for QR-code e-payment, and also unveiled plans to further streamline government transactions from licence applications to end-of-life planning, with digital tools for businesses and individuals alike.

Meanwhile, the Government has progressively enhanced its steps to safeguard sensitive data, Dr Puthucheary said, in reply to questions from MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).

He noted that policies in the past three years have been rolled out to disconnect certain government devices from the Internet and disable the unauthorised access of USB ports.

Internal information technology audits on agencies' data access and data protection measures have also been stepped up, he told Parliament.

"We will continually review our standards and measures, and will incorporate these lessons learnt and industry best practices," said Dr Puthucheary, who is also Senior Minister of State for Transport, Communications and Information. "For example, we have been progressively automating user and account management to ensure tight and robust access controls."

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