The Debate

Singapore Prepares for the AI Revolution

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The Debate

Singapore Prepares for the AI Revolution

While AI will destroy some types of jobs, it will also create new ones — Singapore aims to be ready.

Singapore Prepares for the AI Revolution
Credit: Denis Ismagilov, 123RF

As global interest in artificial intelligence (AI) grows, Singapore wants to establish itself as a global hotspot for AI research and entrepreneurship. The city-state’s leaders see a big opportunity to leverage AI to grow their economy and improve the lives of their citizens. They are working actively to ensure that all Singaporeans — including those whose jobs are at the greatest risk of automation — are prepared for an AI-driven future.

The stakes are high. Across industries and job categories, AI threatens to displace workers on a massive scale. Routine jobs that require basic skills are at greatest risk of automation, but AI is also encroaching on professions that require advanced degrees and years of experience. In finance, for example, automation could displace millions of professionals globally across banking, investment management, and insurance.  

Yet while AI will alter and destroy some types of jobs, it will also create new ones, enhance others, and power tools that boost workforce resilience. Some countries will reap huge rewards from these changes, but others face the risk of widespread unemployment and rising inequality.

Building Local AI Talent

In an AI-powered world, many of the best jobs will go toward those with the technical skills to develop and manage AI systems. To meet this opportunity, Singapore is actively deploying programs to build capacity in relevant disciplines.

One example is AI Singapore, an initiative launched by the National Research Foundation in May 2017. The initiative will bring together Singapore-based research institutions and private companies to perform use-inspired research, grow local knowledge, and create tools to help anchor deep national capabilities in AI. It will receive S$150 million (US$111 million) over five years.

“Singapore is very committed to building a sustained pipeline of high-quality local AI talent,” says Professor Ho Teck Hua, Senior Deputy President and Provost of NUS and Executive Chairman of AI Singapore.

Supported by the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore, AI Singapore introduced a nine-month full-time AI Apprenticeship Program. As part of AI Singapore’s 100 Experiments (100E) program, the apprentices will get on-the-job training by working on real-world AI problems, guided by AI Singapore’s mentors and 100E researchers.

Initiatives like these will help encourage AI adoption across the Singapore economy and create opportunities for AI companies. This will generate jobs for programmers and engineers, as well as professionals with more traditional skills, such as finance, sales, marketing, and administration. Even as the AI revolution displaces jobs, the net impact on the economy will likely be positive, but for some workers, the transition may be challenging.

Cultivating Adaptability

As tech-driven change in the job market accelerates, Singapore also wants to ensure that workers in all sectors have the mindset and skills to adapt to new situations. Through both public and private sector initiatives, Singaporeans can access a variety of opportunities for continuous learning, reskilling, and job placement.

One major player is SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), a statutory board under the Ministry of Education that provides an array of lifelong learning and workforce development programs for people of all ages. This includes career guidance, job search support, work-study placements, and other benefits like the SkillsFuture Credit, a direct subsidy of S$500 (US$373) to Singapore citizens over the age of 25 for a pre-approved list of courses (mid-career professionals can get even higher subsidies).

The National University of Singapore (NUS), where I serve as Associate Provost (Education) and Founding Director of the Institute for the Application of Learning Science and Education Technology (ALSET), also supports lifelong learning in a variety of ways. As one example, ALSET recently partnered with the School for Continuing and Lifelong Education to offer courses on learning science for working adults. The courses provide essential knowledge and practical strategies for learning in the most efficient and enjoyable manner — an essential skill for navigating a rapidly changing job market.

ALSET also conducts R&D on new technologies to help personalise courses, generate career recommendations, and match workers with job openings. The ALSET team includes over 20 researchers from a variety of domains, including several who are developing AI-based tools for education, training, and career placement.

Multinationals are playing a role in supporting Singapore’s workforce development efforts too. LinkedIn, for example, signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS, the Institute of Adult Learning at SSG, and other stakeholders to study skills gaps in the Singapore workforce. This agreement is part of a broader global effort by the professional network to use its vast stores of job market data to help governments develop effective policy on workforce management.

With its depth of technology talent and a strong government push in AI, Singapore has many of the right ingredients to succeed in an AI-driven future. But we still need more research and new workforce development initiatives to ensure that the AI revolution delivers meaningful impact for workers in all segments of the Singapore economy.

Professor Robert Kamei is the founding director of the Institute for the Application of Learning Science and Educational Technology (ALSET) at the National University of Singapore. Prior to joining ALSET, he was the Vice Dean (Education) at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.