SINGAPORE: Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, Mr Gerald Giam emphasized the imperative for Singapore to proactively build comprehensive local data sets to fuel the development of homegrown Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In his adjournment motion on Monday (5 Feb), Mr Giam advocated for the pursuit of ambitious publicly funded moonshot projects to advance the nation’s AI capabilities.
He highlighted that in December, the government unveiled the National AI Strategy 2.0 report (NAIS 2.0), which outlines Singapore’s plans for harnessing AI for public good.
The report focuses on enhancing AI capabilities, addressing potential risks, and fostering a thriving AI ecosystem.
Expressing his perspective, Mr Giam stressed the necessity for a more comprehensive AI industrial policy and clearer outcomes tailored to each industry.
Under NAIS 2.0, the government’s primary role involves creating an enabling environment for AI growth and enhancing the efficiency of public agencies.
However, he argued that the government possesses the resources and capability to play a more proactive role in fostering a world-leading AI industry in the current AI-driven era.
Mr Giam pointed out that relying solely on the free market may not yield the desired results due to the constraints of Singapore’s local private sector and its small domestic market.
“Singapore’s small population should not deter us from global AI leadership,” he added.
Mr Giam advocates local talent inclusion in Singapore’s AI job creation initiative
Mr Giam addressed the mixed sentiments among Singaporeans regarding the National AI Strategy 2.0 (NAIS 2.0) goal of creating 15,000 AI jobs.
While enthusiasm exists, concerns linger about potential dominance by foreigners, particularly in lucrative and leadership positions, potentially leaving Singaporeans with routine and lower-paying roles.
NAIS 2.0 outlines three labor planks: scaling up AI-specific training programs, enhancing technology and AI talent pipelines, and remaining open to global tech talent.
Mr Giam sought assurance from the government that at least two-thirds of the new “AI practitioner” jobs would be allocated to Singaporeans.
Highlighting the need for a clear distinction between outstanding global talent and average foreign tech workers, Mr Giam urged caution in importing too many of the latter to prevent competition with local talent.
He emphasized the importance of global talent transferring skills to locals rather than using Singapore as a springboard for pursuits in other countries.
With the right training and opportunities, he believes Singaporean talent can compete globally.
Mr Giam advocates bold ‘Moonshot’ initiatives to propel Singapore’s AI growth
In his speech, Mr Giam emphasized the need for “moonshot” projects in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), defining them as ambitious and groundbreaking targets that can spur breakout growth.
While acknowledging the National AI Strategy 2.0 (NAIS 2.0), he pointed out the perceived lack of explicit moonshot initiatives within it.
Mr Giam argued that the government, possessing the necessary resources and capacity, should undertake longer-term, higher-risk endeavors to achieve significant breakthroughs in AI.
He highlighted the potential of a healthcare AI as a significant “moonshot” for Singapore, citing several compelling reasons.
Firstly, healthcare is ripe for fundamental disruption, with AI capable of predicting risks and improving health outcomes based on population-scale data.
Secondly, there is a genuine global market gap in healthcare AI, and Singapore has the unique opportunity to build a population-scale healthcare data ecosystem.
Thirdly, healthcare AI has “moats” against global tech giants, relying on local healthcare teams and physical sensors.
This provides Singapore with an advantage, especially in data-rich areas like genomics and precision medicine.
Fourthly, healthcare AI has export potential as a public good with fewer sovereignty concerns.
By assuming a leadership role, Singapore can export innovations, garner international goodwill, and advance foreign policy.
To realize this healthcare AI moonshot, Mr Giam proposed combining existing ingredients into a coherent strategy, emphasizing the export of specialized services and medical diagnoses, rather than raw data.
Mr Giam concluded that a healthcare AI moonshot strategy positions Singapore as a global leader in AI, leveraging its unique capabilities in consolidating biomedical and healthcare data.
He emphasized that this proactive strategy is about thriving in the AI-driven future for the benefit of the entire nation.
“There may be other moonshots of equal or greater merit,” he added, expressing confidence in Singapore’s talent, resources, and infrastructure to compete in selected AI fields with political will, risk-taking readiness, and government intervention.
Janil Puthucheary responds to Gerald Giam’s speech
In response to Mr Giam’s speech, Senior Minister of State for Communication and Information, Janil Puthucheary acknowledged some shared goals but noted differences in the government’s approach to the issue.
Dr Janil highlighted internal contradictions in Mr Giam’s speech, citing instances where statements supporting one strategy seemed to contradict others.
For instance, Mr Giam spoke about a level playing field for AI with a collaborative open-source community but later expressed concerns about market dominance and network effects hindering market penetration.
Dr Janil emphasized that while the government might have a different view on how to achieve outcomes, the agreed-upon goal is the same.
He argued against traditional industrial policy approaches, advocating instead for targeting excellence in key domains and creating a supportive environment for success.
Dr Janil emphasized the importance of not seeking global leadership merely for its own sake but advancing Singapore’s interests through growing the AI ecosystem, international partnerships, job creation, and benefiting both companies and citizens.
The government’s strategy involves enablers and actions to achieve excellence and empowerment in AI, addressing needs like climate change and population health.
They aim to raise individuals, businesses, and communities to use AI with confidence and trust.
Dr Janil highlighted the government’s dedication to healthcare AI, allocating $35 million through the AI in Health Grand Challenge since 2019 and using various datasets for AI model training in clinics across Singapore.
He discussed establishing an environment conducive to AI peaks of excellence, benefiting both the economy and society.
Emphasizing the significance of innovation and inventiveness over selecting symbolic projects, he asserted that this approach is far more likely to yield success.
Dr Janil underscored the need for a strong AI ecosystem, including skilled practitioners, with the government’s focus on training Singaporeans to capture new opportunities and shape their future.
However, Dr Janil raised concerns about relying solely on Singapore’s data for AI model development due to significant associated costs.
He highlighted the need for Singapore to remain open to innovation, talent, data, and ideas from around the world for success in the fast-paced, borderless field of AI.
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