NTU MLDA@EEE Deep Learning Week
Speech by Minister Josephine Teo at NTU MLDA@EEE Deep Learning Week Opening Ceremony
11 Oct 2021
Professor Subra Suresh, President of Nanyang Technological University
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good evening. Thank you for having me here today and I am very pleased to join you for this year’s edition of Deep Learning Week.
This is a student-initiated event, which speaks volumes about the passion among our students for the growing field of AI and machine learning. I am also heartened to hear about the strong turnout of virtual participants.
Artificial intelligence is an important contributor to our Smart Nation efforts, with the potential to transform businesses and benefit society.
The impetus for this passion is clear. AI technologies allow us to push the boundaries of the impossible and stoke our imaginations with the promise they bring.
Given the seemingly limitless possibilities, many companies, regardless of size and industry sector, have turned to AI and machine learning as a new area of growth. In a short span of 5 years, global corporate investments in AI have increased five-fold, hitting $68 billion US dollars in 2020. That is about $90 billion Singapore dollars.
AI has enabled businesses to optimise operations and understand their customers at a more granular level. This allows businesses to offer new products and services that better suit their customers’ needs.
Some among here may even have experienced it when shopping at Japanese clothing chain Uniqlo. To improve the shopping experience, Uniqlo worked with local AI firm ViSenze. What they did was to take an AI solution, provided by ViSenze, and allow customers to no longer have to approach a staff member for information about a product. Instead, simply by using their phones to snap a photograph of the item, they can actually retrieve information about the item very easily. And, of course, they can do this anytime and anywhere within the store.
Now, at the broader societal level, AI technology also brings many opportunities to transform how we live, work and play. Several useful AI applications already exist today. For example, mapping our daily commutes, recommending videos to watch, and tracking our sleep cycles, just to name a few. These applications will likely develop in myriad ways, contributing not just to personal tasks like helping us to shop more efficiently or take care of our health, but also helping to solve global challenges like making use of renewable energies in a better way and building a more secure food supply.
However, there is still much work to be done before we can fully reap the benefits of AI. Many will be familiar with the concerns around the ethical and safe use of AI. As usage of the technology grows, we will need to develop robust governance standards and frameworks to guide our use of AI systems, while strengthening our capabilities to ensure that AI systems are safe, reliable, and fair. We will also face many challenges in deploying AI – from unlocking data to transforming processes. To address these challenges, we will need to bring the stakeholders together and reduce implementation barriers so that AI can be used more quickly and easily.
Singapore will continue to invest in Smart Nation and AI, spurring adoption and creating more avenues of growth.
Recognising AI’s potential, the government is committing significant resources to accelerate the adoption of AI in Singapore.
We have embarked on ambitious National AI Programmes in key sectors such as healthcare, logistics, education, municipal services, and border security. Through these projects, we aim to not only deliver impact to our economy and society, but also to better understand the challenges stakeholders face when deploying AI. This is so that we can better address these roadblocks at a systemic level.
I am happy to share that we have seen some early successes. For example, we have deployed SELENA+, an AI-enabled tool for retinal image analysis, in all 20 polyclinics across Singapore. SELENA+ uses machine learning to help screen patients at risk for diabetic retinopathy more quickly and accurately. With SELENA+, earlier treatment interventions can be made. The other project I want to talk about is the Municipal Services Office’s new AI-powered OneService Chatbot. This chatbot allows residents to easily report municipal issues via WhatsApp and Telegram. It also uses machine learning, but in a different way – it evaluates the nature of feedback being reported and routes the report to the right agency so it can be dealt with promptly.
In addition to the National AI Programmes, we are also strengthening ecosystem enablers to support AI adoption in Singapore. We have invested more than $500 million into AI research and development over the last 5 years, and we intend to do more in the years to come. In the fundamental research space, we will focus on capabilities that are strategic to Singapore, such as (i) explainable AI; (ii) resource-efficient AI; and (iii) privacy-preserving AI. We are also investing in initiatives such as AI Singapore’s “100 Experiments” programme, to better translate research into application. Through the programme, industry players can work with engineers from AI Singapore and Institutes of Higher Learning researchers to develop cutting-edge AI applications together. In the area of AI governance, we have invested in sharpening our ability to deploy solutions in a fair, inclusive, and ethical manner.
We will continue to do so, ensuring that AI can be used safely and without bias. IMDA launched the second iteration of its Model AI Governance Framework in early 2020. The framework articulates the key ethical and governance issues in deploying AI solutions. To help stakeholders utilise it, IMDA has also launched an Implementation and Self-Assessment Guide for Organisations. On the international stage, Singapore works closely with our peers through platforms such as the Global Partnership on AI, to learn from each other’s experiences and address mutual interests through joint initiatives. Within the government, we are also leveraging AI to transform public services, focusing on high-impact areas like improving policy analysis and formulation; automating processes to overcome manpower constraints; and providing personalised and anticipatory services to citizens. One example is MyCareersFuture, a job portal developed by Workforce Singapore in partnership with GovTech. MyCareersFuture now uses AI engines to identify suitable jobs based on the jobseekers’ skill-sets, allowing them to be matched with jobs more accurately and quickly.
We hope that these investments will not only deliver transformative impact to Singaporeans, but also provide more opportunities for industry players and research teams, so that we can develop a thriving AI ecosystem in Singapore.
What this means for students: there are many exciting career opportunities in AI
The developments I have just described mean that demand for AI talent is expected to grow in the years ahead. To give you a sense of scale, about 10,000 jobs have been filled every year for the past 5 years in the Infocomm sector alone. This does not yet include the need for tech talent, and in particular AI talent, across other industries. So, if we look at the number of vacant tech jobs, jobs that still remain unfilled, depending on which portal you go to, it can range anywhere between 15,000 to 25,000. And this, of course, cuts across the entire economy. We must continue to help Singaporeans upgrade and acquire new skills to meet this demand, through initiatives like IMDA’s TechSkills Accelerator Programme and AI Singapore’s AI Apprenticeship Programme. The demand for AI talent will span across a variety of roles and industries. Besides researchers and engineers, we will also need talent who specialise in operating and maintaining AI systems, and those who are focused on protecting the integrity of such systems.
This demand will need to be met by aspiring professionals like the students who are participating in this event today, who are not just well-versed in the fundamentals, but also passionate about the potential of AI to solve tangible, real-life problems. Your innovation is needed to explore how these technologies can be used to build new products and services, experiment with new methods of doing things, and improve people’s lives in profound ways. I look forward to learning about the meaningful projects that you embark on in the years to come.
It will be an exciting journey, with a range of opportunities and resources to support you on the road ahead. Deep Learning Week is one such excellent resource, to explore interest areas and pursue your passions. So I hope it is not just the subject matter that is “deep learning”, but also that you will find opportunities to delve deeply into the technology, and perhaps learn something new.
I wish you all a most fruitful and meaningful week of discovery ahead. Thank you.
Mrs Josephine Teo
Minister for Communications and Information,
and Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity