The public sector has a high potential for data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to have a huge transformative impact. After all, governments have access to tremendous amounts of data and government operations affect everyone in small and large ways every day.
While it is no secret that only rich data catalyses Artificial Intelligence, its adoption among government entities appears to be uneven and generally lags behind the private sector. Many agencies struggle to bridge the gap that exists between their existing IT infrastructures, practices, and the value that new digital technologies make possible. However, for some governments, there are entire departments, or pockets within departments, where adoption is robust, advanced and successful.
Everyone agrees that the massive amounts of digital data generated by citizens’ activity represent an incredibly valuable resource. Unfortunately, the ever-expanding data resource is often underutilised today. Public sector agencies struggle to unlock the value of their data due to outdated legacy systems and limited analytics capabilities, being data-rich but insight-poor. They often grapple with the associated, yet unnecessary, challenges of big data – high costs, poor data quality, and inconsistent data sources and formats – without experiencing any of the enticing benefits.
There are many lessons to draw from the events of COVID-19 but perhaps one of the most critical is the importance of being able to use data to prepare for potential scenarios and inform our decision making. Public sector agencies require a multifaceted approach, including the ability to quickly integrate new data, make accurate, multilevel forecasts, and provide data-driven insights for policymakers.
Against this backdrop, having a robust data and AI strategy in place will help the public sector better harness the power of data.
The prevailing question is: What is the successful path to the adoption and deployment of AI?
There is a mixed picture of AI adoption in government, and it is likely owing to an environment that is often risk-averse, subject to myriad legislative hurdles and vast in its reach. That being the case, the use of AI has expanded beyond discrete use cases and experiments into wider adoption. There are obvious signs which point to the potential explosion of AI adoption even though gaps in capabilities and strategy are apparent.
Pursuing their missions every day, government agencies spend much of their time focused on operational issues. That time-consuming focus is required in government departments and offices that are held accountable for achieving clearly defined missions. If they fall short, the consequences can be devastating – for the citizens they serve, as well as for the government organisation itself.
In that context, it’s easy to see how AI remains a second-tier priority for some government leaders who have operational roles. This presents government leaders with a paradox. Many have no time to fully embrace AI due to everyday demands, but those AI advances could be instrumental in unlocking real, measurable operational improvements that have the effect of reducing strains on resources and giving them more time to fulfil their mission.
In light of this, how can people understand which AI capabilities are most likely to be adopted in government? What are the biggest untapped opportunities for AI adoption in government? What obstacles and challenges unique to the government are most important to understand today to ensure progress tomorrow?
The OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight held on 3 December 2021 aimed at imparting knowledge on how government agencies can accelerate, innovate and transform their advanced analytics capabilities, make data an integral part of their decision making and adopt AI to better serve the citizens
Harnessing the game-changing potential of data and AI in government for optimal outcomes
Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, OpenGov Asia, kicked off the session with his opening address.
The world has fundamentally changed and the challenges of these times will require sophisticated solutions to meet the new demands of the world. Without a doubt, technology is a priority and the enabler, Mohit asserts.
Decisions are made every day, but they should not be done blindly. To make informed decisions, people need actionable insights. Today, citizens expect government services to be personalised, intuitive, engaging and anticipatory. To deliver the best citizen experience and stay relevant, having data and universal access to it is the key to transforming organisations.
“Data is like a diamond,” Mohit posits. “Data that is not refined and polished will not produce insights – tools have to be used to achieve that.”
Data fuels AI, Mohit believes. Effectively building and deploying AI and machine learning systems require large data sets. Developing a machine learning algorithm depends on large volumes of data, from which the learning process draws many entities, relationships, and clusters.
As Singapore accelerates its Smart Nation efforts, data will only become a more precious commodity. The nation has unveiled two new programmes to drive the adoption of A) in the government and financial services sectors. It also plans to invest another SG$180 million ($133.31 million) in the national research and innovation strategy to tap the technology in key areas, such as healthcare and education.
The fund is on top of SG$500 million ($370.3 million) the government already has set aside in its Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 Plan for AI-related activities, said the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) in a statement in November 2021.
These investments have been earmarked to support various research in areas that address challenges of AI adoption, such as privacy-preserving AI, and areas of societal and economic importance including healthcare, finance, and education. The funds also will facilitate research collaborations with the industry to drive the adoption of AI.
For Mohit, AI will transform every industry and create huge economic value. Technology, like supervised learning, is automation on steroids. It is very good at automating tasks and will have an impact on every sector – from healthcare to manufacturing, logistics and retail.
Beyond a doubt, AI is becoming more commonplace, says Mohit, citing examples such as the Robot dog, Spot, outdoor security robot O-R3 and the multi-purpose all-terrain autonomous robot, or Matar. AI is here to stay. While Singapore has been doing well in AI adoption, the country is still in its infancy – the government is only beginning to harness the technology of AI.
Mohit urged agencies to recognise the beneficial use cases of AI. He reminded the delegates that the complexity of the challenges besetting the world today requires sophisticated solutions. As such, it would be wise for delegates to partner with experts to better place themselves to respond with agility and efficiency in a rapidly evolving world.
Capitalising on the opportunities for AI adoption in government
Dr Steve Bennett, Director, Global Government Practice, SAS, spoke about the different challenges and success in AI for government applications.
Steve shares that the practice of using data to make better decisions was pioneered in government in WWII, giving rise to operations research, defined as “A scientific method of providing executive departments with a quantitative basis for decisions regarding the operations under their control.”
Today, using data to make better decisions may be identified as Artificial Intelligence, which supports better decisions by training systems to emulate specific human tasks through learning and automation.
Steve observes that AI is an increasing priority for the government – 75% of government managers want to deploy AI to help them “keep up.” At the same time, global government leadership sees an increasing opportunity; 80% of government data is estimated to be in formats not easily leveraged before AI.
He points out several opportunities where AI can make a real difference in how jobs are done in the public sector. In health, AI has been used to promote public health in India, improve cancer outcomes through better decision making in Amsterdam, keep the U.S. food supply safe and make CVOID-19 outbreak predictions that result in targeted policy-making decisions.
It is also extensively used in public safety and security, such as the F-35 predictive maintenance, keeping women safe from gender violence in Spain and reducing judicial case delays. In citizen services, AI has been used to reduce youth recidivism in Oregon and reduce unemployment in Denmark.
Attractive as AI is, there are technical and organisational challenges that public sector employees need to be aware of, Steve observes. He explains that there are two categories of AI challenges.
The first is technical and organisational challenges. AI requires a copious amount of data that is well-organised, clean and in good shape. The data readiness of government agencies needs to be in place before AI models can be trained.
Apart from that, there is also a skill gap in the government. Public sector employees need to understand how the models work so that they can understand when they can trust and challenge the model. Then there are also cultural realities, such as leaders who are not ready to accept the insights that come from AI models.
The second category of challenges comes from legal, ethical and societal challenges. There are geopolitical concerns, issues of ethics and values, as well as legal implications related to AI adoption.
In summary, Steve reiterates that the complex problems of today herald a time of change. To stay relevant and efficient to citizens, government agencies need to understand the benefits and considerations of using technology and harness it accordingly.
Deploying AI in government services
Frederic R Clarke, Principal Data Scientist and Director, Machine Intelligence & Novel Data Sources (MINDS), Australian Bureau of Statistics, spoke next on the use case of his agency’s effort in unlocking data to support Australia’s effort in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. It involves using integrated and multisource data and machine intelligence to derive new insights on the economic and social impact of the pandemic.
According to Frederic, federal state and territory governments seek to understand both the transient and enduring impact of the pandemic so that they can better target policies that assist Australia’s recovery in the aftermath. The pandemic is not a singular disruptive event, he says, it is a series of connected crises of varying duration that plays out on a local, national and global scale. It has amplified many existing problems while creating new ones.
For Frederic, a complex problem like a pandemic cannot be understood from a single perspective or a single source of data. The fundamental challenge is that the effects of the pandemic are deeply interconnected, dynamic and multifactorial. To connect the dots across a broad canvas of interrelated economic and social factors, policy analysts need a dynamic multisource-evidence base and new analytical techniques.
The economies in society form complex systems, Frederic asserts. As a result, public policy is fraught with problems that are notoriously difficult to isolate and objectively specify – complex systems do not yield to the familiar linear analytical techniques based on reduction principles.
Frederic opines that the interrelated web of problems is like a spider’s web – one intervention tugs on the interrelated web of issues and can have a ripple effect that can create unintended consequences in many other areas. He suggests that these considerations are not specific to the pandemic but a general set of policy concerns that cut across traditional portfolios and jurisdictions.
Frederic shares that 3 paradigms underpin the analytical approach in Frederic’s organisation.
- Data analysis is citizen-centric: The focus is on a system-wide framing in an analytical context
- Analysis is iterative: Defining the problem is part of the problem. There is a need to align with the objectives and changing needs of the policymakers at every stage and set directions for their analysis based on previous results
- Producing analyses that give integrated data: Since no single source of data can provide all the observations that can address informational needs in a complex policy space, being able to combine data sources is critical.
Frederic uses the example of the Australian government studying the impact of the pandemic on jobs and employment. To do so, they modelled the labour market as a system of connected entities – businesses, persons, households, jobs, locations, etc. – that interact through different types of relationships. Then, the concepts, entities, relationships and associated metadata are represented and stored in a knowledge graph. They use automated reasoning and machine learning approaches to integrate data and find new insights.
Believing firmly in the use of AI, Frederic encouraged the use of AI in government services that can help to drastically improve decisions making through high-quality insights.
After the informative presentations, delegates participated in interactive discussions facilitated by polling questions. This activity is designed to provide live-audience interaction, promote engagement, hear real-life experiences, and facilitate discussions that impart professional learning and development for participants.
The first poll inquired on the percentage of overall IT investment that delegates foresee being committed to data and AI deployment over the next 2 years. Just over half (54%) of the delegates felt 10% – 30% of their IT investment would go into data and AI deployment. About 42% predicted that between 30% – 50% would be allocated while 4% said more than 50% would be deployed.
When asked about their biggest challenge in terms of data analytics, most delegates indicated the lack of skilled staff who understand big data analysis (61%) as the biggest challenge. The rest of the delegates were either not able to derive meaningful insights through data analytics (17%), lack of quality data and proper data storage (17%) or were not able to synchronise disparate data sources (5%).
Delegates shared the sentiment that data seemed to be understood only by a few. Getting everyone to produce insights is a “management challenge,” one delegate opines. There is a gap between the data scientist and departments, as well as the lack of knowledge to ask the right questions. There were also other challenges such as the lack of domain knowledge among the data scientists and having to manage a huge amount of data and legacy systems.
In response to these challenges, Frederic shared that his organisation’s strategy is to build data science teams that consist of domain experts. They do not expect that a single data scientist will have the full array of technical skills and domain knowledge. On the volume of data, he suggests the need to look at computing platforms as part of the capability. To analyse data, it is not merely the mathematical and statistical expertise. People need the tools to process a large volume of data.
In ranking the biggest challenge they face when implementing their AI strategy, almost half (46%) went with lack of properly skilled teams. Other delegates found the inflexible business processes and teams (21%), the lack of availability of data (21%), ineffective project management/governance (8%) and ineffective third-party partners (4%) as their biggest challenges.
Participants expressed a range of responses such as the culture of pushback when it comes to AI adoption, having the right skill set to achieve certain objectives, data classification frameworks, compliance requirements and high cost.
As far as cost goes, Steve offeree his experience of extending algorithmic techniques to take small amounts of data and artificially build and sample training data sets out of small data sets.
Frederic echoed Steve’s point and asserted that sampling is a powerful strategy. However, the issue lies in being able to sample without introducing biases, such that the model can return results that reflect the presence or absence of characteristics. He also posited the idea of agile development for producing analytical and statistical results. He opines that the challenges of implementing AI are never singular – it involves the capabilities of multidimensional teams and issues of cloud deployment.
Frederic expanded on the considerations surrounding sampling. “It depends on your purpose,” he says. For instance, in the case of generating classification sets through coding and mapping responses to the code, there is no need to include all the data in basic questions. In those cases, the model integrity and model accuracy depends on choosing the right set of training cases. However, if the purpose is for analytics and exploratory model building, one needs to be very careful in the application of sampling, since one may not know what is to be tested or what could be found.
On the most common use case of AI in their organisation, delegates were almost equally divided between developing smarter products or services (28%), driving intelligent business processes (24%), automating repetitive tasks (24%) and developing a more personalised relationship with stakeholders (24%).
On whether AI adoption remains a second-tier priority in the face of pressing requirements to deliver critical services, more than half of the delegates (56%) indicated that the lack of required skill sets is hindering the desired adoption. Other delegates indicated that AI has not been fully embraced due to everyday demands (28%) or that there is not enough budget to deploy the required AI solutions (11%). The remainder (5%) said AI adoption takes a back seat for some government leaders who have operational roles.
Besides the issue of privacy and security, some delegates felt that there is a lack of value proposition that businesses can come up with. Another delegate opined that organisations should not only look at people who develop AI but the managerial capability in understanding the potential and limitations of AI.
Mohit echoes that point of view and asserts the need to raise the skill set internally, but that the deeper insights require bringing experts from the outside.
On the most important ingredient for successful and wider AI adoption in the public sector, more than half of the delegates (55%) indicated that starting small and building the business case by demonstrating initial wins is the most important. That is followed by the belief in aligning all departments on the single vision and garnering support (20%), establishing clear lines of authority and ownership across the entire organisation (15%) and other considerations (10%).
The final poll asked delegates for their thoughts on the essential tenet for ethical AI to work. Most of the delegates believe in the need for an effective and practical ethical framework/ governance model for AI (56%), followed by the belief that AI solutions should allow for audibility and traceability (22%) and training AI models with carefully-assessed and representative data (11%).
In closing, Steve expressed his gratitude towards everyone for their participation and highly energetic discussion. Delegates believe that AI can make a difference in tailoring benefits for citizens and generating incredible insights. However, being able to manage the challenges of the lack of data or ethical considerations are important hurdles to cross.
He highlighted Frederic’s point about the application of agile approaches to insights delivery and reiterated that some of the best practices for AI adoption are in starting small and having transparency and audibility in the data.
Steve emphasised the edge AI can offer organisations in their journey towards delivering better government services. He reiterated that the digital transformation is an ongoing and collaborative journey and encouraged the delegates to connect with him and the team to explore ways in which AI can help agencies improve their operations.
The Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU) recently launched a ground-breaking Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Psychology that incorporates technology modules with psychology, in an emerging field known as cyberpsychology.
According to the Programme Leader, “Cyberpsychology is the study of human behaviour and mental processes in the context of human-technology interaction. The focus of this module is on the psychology of online behaviour, to uncover how the internet and digital technologies affect attitudes, emotions, and the societal impacts of living in a digital age, such as the exploration of the motives and psychological makeup that contribute to Cybercrime, she said.
While psychology professionals work in human domains, students in this field must now develop a strong grasp of technological aspects, especially when the line between cyberspace and the real world is becoming increasingly blurred.
Globally, the adoption rate of emerging technologies – including cloud computing, connected devices, mobile, robotics and blockchain, have grown at an exponential rate over the past 10 years. As of April 2022, there were five billion internet users worldwide, which is 63% of the global population. Of this total, 4.65 billion were social media users.
Further, the arrival of the Metaverse will even reinforce the blurring of the lines between the physical world and the virtual one, the physical world will eventually merge with the digital – in fully immersive virtual reality.
As technology reshapes the way people live, think, and behave, the transformation of psychology studies has introduced new ways to provide treatment or therapy. This has affected the dissemination of knowledge and how research is conducted.
Within the programme’s modules, students will also be exposed to Psychotechnology, to understand user experience (UX), cognitive workload and use these results to solve practical problems. These updated, relevant modules allow students to develop vital skills and knowledge, enabling them to work in various sectors, such as e-sports, advertising, and more that require further study to determine their psychological impacts.
To create a conducive learning and studying environment mirroring the professional setting that supports both counselling and clinical psychology needs, APU has invested significantly to set up the Centre for Psychology and Well-Being at its campus.
The Head of the School who oversees the setting up of the Centre, explained that as a tech-centric and industry-driven university, APU has blended technology elements into conventional psychology teaching and learning. The University’s Centre for Psychology and Well-Being is an innovative facility that houses advanced equipment embedded with state-of-the-art technology that supports psychology learning and research – which itself has set us apart from our competitors.
The Centre aims to develop a professional-like high-tech centre which attracts students towards experiential learning coupled with a comfortable learning environment.
According to the Programme Leader, by placing psychological tools infused with modern technology to better predict and understand human behaviour such as Electroencephalogram (EEG), Eye Tracker, and Computerised Psychological Assessments, students can learn to make data-driven decisions.
Together with Eye-Tracking Laboratory, the design of the Centre includes Psychobiological Laboratory; Psychoanalysis Therapy Suites for both individual and group therapy; Psychological Testing and Measurement Room; Psychology Group Observation Suite that is complimented with a one-way mirror and AV capture equipment; Activity and Discussion Rooms; and teaching classrooms that are tied to instructional learning and research activities.
Some highlights of the training using the advanced setting and facilities mentioned include:
- The DSI-24 Electroencephalogram (EEG) – a wireless dry electrode EEG headset in the Psychobiological Lab enables students to learn about cognitive processes like attention and memory by placing conductive electrodes on the scalp which measure the small electrical potentials that arise outside of the head due to neuronal action within the brain.
- In the Psychological Testing and Measurement Room, the latest state-of-the-art Tobii Pro Fusion Eye Tracker which focuses on information processing such as scene perception, and visual searching, provides students with a first-hand experience in using the equipment.
- The Psychoanalysis Therapy Suite features the famous Freud psychoanalytic couch. This help students learn role-play skills or to conduct any activity relating to counselling or psychotherapy.
- The Psychology Group Observation Suite is equipped with a one-way mirror (semi-transparent mirror), brightly lit from one side, allowing students to inconspicuously observe people’s behaviour on the other side while maintaining privacy.
- Individual (and Group) Therapy Rooms are designed to provide a quiet, comfortable, energizing, and soothing space ideal for conducting individual or group counselling. Registered counsellors and educators will use the rooms to provide their respective services like consultation, teaching, and intern-related training.
With proficiency in using advanced technology, especially digital assessments, APU’s psychology graduates become tech-savvy and well equipped for the competitive world of the psychology industry.
The government has issued a national cybersecurity strategy to respond to challenges and crimes in cyberspace. The strategy sets objectives for 2025 as well as has a vision for 2030. Under the strategy, one of the main targets is to maintain or increase Vietnam’s ranking on the global cybersecurity index (GCI).
In a press statement, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) laid out the major tasks and solutions in the strategy, including strengthening the overall management of the State over cybersecurity, completing legal frameworks, and protecting national sovereignty in cyberspace.
The government will also safeguard digital infrastructure, platforms, data, and national cyberinfrastructure. It will protect the information systems of state agencies as well as crucial sectors that need to be prioritised to ensure information security.
Through the strategy, the country will foster digital trust and build an honest, civilized, and healthy network environment. It will prevent and combat law violations in cyberspace and enhance technological mastery and autonomy to actively cope with cyberspace challenges.
The government will train and develop human resources in cybersecurity, raise awareness about cybersecurity skills, and work to secure funding to implement cybersecurity initiatives. The strategy also aims to improve national prestige and foster international integration.
Meanwhile, incident response teams of 11 priority sectors for network information security will be formed. The key areas include transport, energy, natural resources and environment, information, health, finance, banking, defense, security, social order and safety, urban areas, and the government’s direction and administration.
According to a report released by the ITU in June 2021, Vietnam jumped 25 places after two years to rank 25th out of 194 countries and territories worldwide in the GCI in 2020. Vietnam ranked 7th in the Asia-Pacific region and 4th among ASEAN countries in the field.
According to Vietnam Information Security Association (VINSA), there were over 5,400 cyber-attacks on Vietnamese systems in the first five months of this year. Of these, approximately 68% were malicious attacks. However, May showed a decrease in the number of cyber incidents, due to socio-economic stability and the resumption of more economic activities initiated around the Party’s solutions and guidelines, according to the Information Security Department, MIC.
Further, after MIC issued a warning, incidents were down 9.37% in April as compared to March 2022. The government has been proactive in raising vigilance, strengthening cyber information security as well as security and social order. This has made it difficult for bad actors to attack networks, spread infecting malicious code, and run scams to steal and destroy information of users and organisations.
In June, MIC stated that to ensure information security for information systems and Vietnam’s cyberspace, it would continue to strengthen monitoring and proactive scanning; it would evaluate statistics and promote propaganda and issue warning in the mass media so that users know and avoid the risk of cyber-attacks.
MIC also said it would address the situation by strengthening mechanisms for monitoring and proactive scanning, raising public awareness, and providing advance warnings of expected cyberattacks. Simultaneously, the Ministry would continue to urge the review of vulnerabilities and communicate signs of cyberattacks.
Marsdya TNI Donny Ermawan Taufanto, Secretary-General of the Indonesian Ministry of Defense formally inaugurated the ongoing 2022 Defense Research and Development Week with the theme “Research, Development, and Innovation of Defense Technology in Realising the Independence of Defense Equipment Tools.”
The Secretary-General urged all citizens to love, appreciate, and be proud of the innovations created by the nation’s youth. He cited that the activities have an important role in publication and scientific information to understand and produce the best solutions in the form of constructive and innovative suggestions for R & D development in the defence sector.
The activity was organised by Indonesia’s Ministry of Defense – Research and Development Agency in the form of an exhibition that displays defence equipment resulting from research and development of universities, R & D agencies, and domestic industries.
On the other hand, the Secretary-General acknowledged the exhibits of the innovative defence types of equipment, and his attention was focused on the Moto EV, a two-wheeled vehicle with an electric engine. The Moto EV is perfect for silent operation because the noise level has been minimised.
Also, the activity exhibited innovative creations in the IT sector like the Pasupati, a Pindad Simulation Product of Virtual Reality, which is a technology for digitally simulating shooting activities using weapon products.
Using VR principles, users will be invited to interact with the virtual world environment using the console, as if they were using and shooting with real weapons. With a level of ease that has a sensation like playing video games, Pasupati offers easy and real use of weapons while minimising the level of danger.
The activities of the 2022 Defense R&D Week honour the 27th National Technology Awakening Day, which aims to accommodate brilliant ideas from academics and researchers to contribute to the development of defence technology and attain future defence equipment independence.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Information and Communication Technology Training and Development Centre Research and Human Resources Development Agency of the Ministry of Communication and Information (Kominfo) held a Regional Workshop On Digital Diplomacy with the theme “The Essence of Information and Communication Technology for Government Leaders.”
The activity is intended for Government Officials for the e-government implementation of countries and territories in the Pacific region such as the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Hence, the activity was a follow-up to the International Conference on Digital Diplomacy (ICDD) with the theme “Unmasking Digital Diplomacy in the New Normal” which was held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2021.
The ICDD 2021 activity was attended by 20 countries and produced the Bali Message on ICDD which has identified five focus areas, namely:
- Government Policy Framework to Support Digital Diplomacy;
- Crisis Management Through Digital Diplomacy;
- Data Management to Support Digital Diplomacy;
- Innovation to Support SMEs; and
- Capacity Building and Digital Inclusion.
The ICDD follow-up series will continue to be carried out by the nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the cornerstone of Digital Diplomacy. In the next activity, the Ministry will hold a Regional Government social media (GSMS) Conference, a scientific discussion forum on the use of digital media among governments to share new perspectives and experiences, which provide solutions to challenges in digital diplomacy through government social media.
In response to the need for indoor urban farming solutions, the National University of Singapore (NUS) officially opened the Research Centre on Sustainable Urban Farming (SUrF) to bring together the diverse expertise of principal investigators from across the University to develop new science and technology-based solutions for urban farming in the country.
“NUS is committed to making significant contributions towards Singapore’s food policy agenda, together with partners in the public sector and the industry. We aim to create a globally competitive research programme in sustainable urban farming that incorporates smart agriculture solutions for diverse stakeholders,” says Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS President.
A core team from the domains of science, engineering, and computing makes up SUrF, a research organisation that focuses on sustainable urban farming. This exclusive group of researchers has experience in a variety of topics, including plant science, genomics and gene editing, microbiomes, food science, materials and polymer science, sensor technologies, data science, and artificial intelligence (AI) for indoor farming.
The team will start multidisciplinary programmes to build a cross-boundary, sustainable platform for improving plant performance both before and after harvest, including harvest yield, nutritional profile, and safety assurance.
A new facility for the Centre, with around 200 square metres of indoor plant growth area for research, is planned to be completed by early 2023.
There will be three growth rooms and an additional precision growth room where environmental parameters such as temperature and light spectrum can be changed to promote better plant growth with potentially improved phytonutrients.
PlantEye, a non-destructive phenotyping device for monitoring plant development and recording plant health, as well as many analytical tools for studying nutrient content, will be part of the research equipment.
The Centre will also have access to NUS’s cutting-edge laboratories for molecular genetics research, including gene editing.
Furthermore, SUrF’s research focuses on three stages of food production: before, during, and after production. The goal of the Centre is to come up with solutions for growers and work with local businesses to meet their needs.
Post-harvest interventions can also help improve the nutritional value and microbial safety of food. According to preliminary findings, LED lighting not only removes organisms that cause spoiling but also increases the nutritional quality of green crops.
The team’s next steps will be to develop LED illumination technology specifically for green vegetables typically consumed in Singapore, as well as to test their technique in simulated retail circumstances.
In addition, there are 16 principal investigators in SUrF from the NUS Departments of Biological Science, Food Science and Technology, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Computer Science. They oversee about 10 research projects.
One of these projects is trying to make it easier to grow leafy greens in cities. Most crops grown on indoor farms aren’t good for controlled environments because they were grown in the field. This makes growing plants indoors ineffective and unsustainable, with a low yield.
Researchers are looking into new ways to breed plants, such as genomic selection and gene editing, to make leafy vegetable varieties with traits that work well in controlled environments. This is done to improve the quality and productivity of agriculture.
On the other hand, the team made bio-inoculants of bacteria that help plants grow. These can be used in different farming situations, such as when plants are grown in soil, peat, or coconut fibres, or when hydroponic systems are used.
This could help crops grow better and be more resilient in a way that isn’t harmful to the environment. It could also reduce the need for chemical fertilisers.
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has launched CovidInArea, a privacy-preserving mobile-friendly app which integrates and visualizes open data. It includes a list of buildings visited by cases who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 virus in the past 14 days (hereinafter referred to as “incident places”), from the Department of Health (DoH) of the HKSAR Government as an easily accessible heatmap, providing a free location-based tool for users to understand their risk due to proximity with the incident places.
Making use of big data mining and machine learning techniques, a team led by Prof. Gary CHAN Shueng-Han from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering has designed and developed the app, which consists of a real-time heatmap for browsing the locations of the incident places at a glance.
Unlike other existing platforms and apps which mostly require users to check the locations manually, CovidInArea runs the check automatically by providing real-time GPS support for mobile users. It is the first public COVID-19-related app available in both Google Play Store and Apple App Store developed by a university for city-wide use anywhere in Hong Kong.
The heatmap pinpoints incident places given by DoH, based on data updated continuously as per the government’s related daily information release. By zooming in and out on the heatmap, users can immediately gain a complete picture of the incident places, which are indicated by hues of different temperatures, hence able to make informed decisions in their daily routine, path planning and keep safe distancing.
User privacy is ensured in CovidInArea, which requires no user registration and collects no personal information beyond GPS location. All computations are carried out with results presented locally on the user’s phone, while the GPS location, once consumed, is immediately discarded without storage at any time.
In addition, with GPS on, users are enabled to easily visualise in a chart – over several days – the number of incidents placed in their proximity in real-time. Taking into consideration the distance, users’ dwell time, and number of places of incidence in proximity, the app also indicates the overall proximity risk using a colour radar chart:
- Red: Overall high sustained contact with incident places. Recommended to reduce high-risk places, manage health and take voluntary testing if needed.
- Yellow:Medium risk. Be cautious. Plan safe paths to reduce risk.
- Green:Low risk. Stay vigilant.
Prof. Gary Chan stated that because the number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong has remained high as of late, the app provides a timely and user-friendly reference on incident places to help citizens stay vigilant of their surroundings and take precautions if necessary to proactively reduce the infection risk while commuting.
He added that with CovidInArea, users can take appropriate actions to plan daily routes, manage their health, and keep a safe distance from the incident places. The professor also thanked the government for opening up the data for public use to fight against COVID-19 together.
Prof. Gary CHAN Shueng-Han is an expert in the development of novel and precise sensing and positioning technologies for smart applications. The government has worked alongside him to develop a geofencing technology applied in the StayHomeSafe app to enforce local home quarantine orders. He has also innovated a privacy-preserving mobile app that senses registered Bluetooth signals to efficiently search for missing dementia patients in the city. His indoor navigation technology has also been deployed in many malls and venues.
Promoting digital transactions
Traders at Ha Long 1 and Ha Long 2 markets in the Quang Ninh province are now able to go cashless using digital payment services under a 4.0 market model. State-run enterprise Viettel Quang Ninh is the supplier of non-cash payment services in the two markets.
All small traders in the markets will make digital payments through Viettel Money, a digital payment platform. Payments can be made via phone numbers, QR codes, or bank transfers. Fees for electricity, water, and environmental sanitation can also be paid with a Viettel Money account.
According to an official, to achieve the government’s target to have electronic payment rates reach 50% by 2025, digital payments must become part of daily life in both urban and rural areas. Viettel Quang Ninh has readied technology and human resources to coordinate with Hạ Long city’s authorities to deploy cashless applications.
In April this year, Ha Long city issued a plan to develop non-cash payment methods for the 2022-2025 period, under which the city aims to have 90% of citizens 15 years and older own transaction accounts and have non-cash payments in e-commerce reach 50%. The average growth in the volume and value of non-cash payment transactions is expected to expand by 20-25% per year, while 100% of the tuition fees of educational institutions and schools in Ha Long should be paid through cashless methods.
Ha Long city’s public administration centre has guided and supported citizens in making payment transactions on the National Public Service Portal. By July, over 1,400 citizens had paid taxes and other fees through the system, with a total amount of over US$ 727,400, accounting for 84% of total transactions.
Quang Ninh authorities are promoting comprehensive digital transformation, especially in administrative reform, hoping to attract investment into the locality. Since June, digitisation and data extraction platforms have been piloted at the provincial public administration service centre and in the sectors of justice; labour, invalids, and society; education and training; health care; and information and communication.
Over 9,300 enterprises in the region have registered to use e-invoices. Quang Ninh has so far provided 1,712 Level-4 online public services out of the 1,832 administrative procedures. The rate of administrative procedure documents received and processed online via the online public service portal reached 62%. Up to 1,180 online public services at levels 3-4 of the locality have been synchronised on the national public service portal.
Local authorities are developing modern and synchronous infrastructure facilities and enhancing regional linkages to promote economic growth. As of early June 2022, the province’s non-budget investment attraction reached over US $1.6 billion. Last year, Quang Ninh topped Vietnam’s Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) and the Satisfaction Index of Public Administration Services (SIPAS). It also ranked second in the public administration reform (PAR) Index. The locality posted an estimated growth rate of 10.66% in the gross regional domestic product (GRDP) in the first six months of this year, which is 2.64 percentage points higher than the rate in the same period of 2021. Quang Ninh collected over US $1.17 billion for the state budget, an increase of 18% year-on-year.
In a significant win for global research training, Australian and French academic ties are set grow stronger following the announcement of the Australia France Network of Doctoral Excellence (AUFRANDE). The € 15.7 million (AU$ 22.8 million) network will be led by RMIT’s European hub in Barcelona and involve thirty-seven universities across France and Australia.
Co-funded by the European Commission, in collaboration with RMIT and partners, the five-year project will employ sixty-four early career doctoral researchers, with a focus on generating industry-relevant research. The researchers will be mentored by experienced supervisors from academia and industry and receive training and support including annual workshops and group events.
In a speech at the Australian Embassy in Paris, the RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President stated that AUFRANDE was set to spark a new generation of high performing early-stage researchers. Australian and French research ecosystems are being connected at scale in a way never done before.
This is only possible because of the unique positioning of RMIT’s European hub, able to serve as a bridge between the two countries through its detailed knowledge of how research funding works in both regions.
Australia’s Ambassador to France stated that establishing the network marked a significant collaboration between the two nations.
An AUFRANDE partner, the Director of Research at École Centrale de Lyon welcomed this opportunity to intensify and diversify research collaborations, with an expected significant impact on several acute scientific and technological issues. He noted that from photonics and nanotechnology to acoustics and energetics, young researchers will find exciting AUFRANDE PhD positions in Centrale Lyon laboratories.
The award of AUFRANDE unites RMIT Europe’s expertise in leading large scale multi-partner international PhD programs, following the award of REDI last year, which links RMIT with twenty-four partners in ten countries. The new network will also establish a significant number of co-supervision agreements between French and Australian partners, laying the groundwork for continued high levels of collaboration well beyond the project’s end.
Researchers will be employed at French academic institutions and spend up to one year on secondment at an Australian university. They will receive both French and Australian doctoral degrees upon successful completion of their research.
Other Australian partners include UNSW Sydney, The University of Tasmania, Macquarie University and The University of Sydney. The first group of PhD candidates will be recruited from a worldwide hiring campaign expected to begin in early 2023.
Relations between Australia and France are positive and friendly with the bilateral relationship being underpinned by strong and enduring historical links. There has been consular and diplomatic engagement since 1842, and cooperation in both the First World War and the Second World War.
The Joint Statement of Enhanced Strategic Partnership between Australia and France, signed on 3 March 2017, was developed to enable both countries to strengthen engagement in the Indo-Pacific region. The statement promotes two-way visits and cooperation in the following priority areas: political; defence; security and intelligence; economic; energy and resources; transport and infrastructure; education, science, technology, and culture; innovation; shared memory of the First World War; environmental and climate issues; international development; and consular and crisis management. Regular communication between Australian and French ministers and senior officials recently has helped advance the implementation of partnership objectives.