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NRF Singapore to set up Data Science Consortium and launch national AI programme with S$150 million investment over 5 years

NRF Singapore to set up Data Science Consortium and launch national AI programme with S$150 million investment over 5 years

Minister Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim experiences Hackaball with a group of young participants on Tech Saturday (Upsized!) (Photo credit: IMDA)

During the ongoing Smart Nation Innovation Week, Minister Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim announced two new initiatives by the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore as part of the key thrust area of investing in frontier technologies to develop Singapore’s digital economy.

Singapore Data Science Consortium

NRF will be setting up a Singapore Data Science Consortium (SDSC), in collaboration with the National University Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU)1, the Singapore Management University (SMU) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

This partnership between government and academia is expected to deepen Singapore’s existing strengths in data science and analytics. It will facilitate collaboration between Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), research institutes and industry in data science R&D, with the aim of facilitating industry adoption of the latest cutting-edge data science and analytics technologies to address real-world challenges.

The Consortium will work in partnership with the Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to engage companies in six sectors: finance; healthcare; customer and retail; manufacturing; logistics; and transport. The press release states that there will be particular emphasis on engaging local enterprises, from Large Local Enterprises (LLEs) to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups.

Through the Consortium, companies will be able to access data science expertise residing in the IHLs and research institutes, access publicly-funded intellectual property to develop new products and services, or create solutions to existing market challenges.

The Consortium will help the industry to identify and shape their data science problem statements and then match companies to the relevant potential R&D partners. In order to encourage and facilitate adoption and commercialisation of data science technologies by local companies, industry engagement events and workshops will be conducted.

The Consortium is also expected to help train and develop a local pipeline of talents with deep data science capabilities.

Professor Ho Teck Hua, Deputy President (Research & Technology) and Tan Chin Tuan Centennial Professor at NUS is leading the Consortium. He said: “Data science is not just about capturing a large amount of data quickly and accurately. It is equally important to compute using that data to discover predictive and causal relationships, and create solutions to address real-world challenges. This is a tremendous endeavour that requires collaboration and contributions from a diverse community comprising scientists, engineers, domain experts, government agencies and end users. ”


NRF is also going to launch a national programme in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to develop Singapore’s AI capabilities.

Called AI.SG, this initiative will be driven by a government-wide partnership comprising NRF, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), EDB, IMDA, SGInnovate, and the Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS). NRF will invest up to $150 million over five years in AI.SG.

As a national partnership that pulls together Singapore’s AI capabilities, the operations of AI.SG will be overseen by a Management Committee comprising experts from all Singapore-based research institutions, key government agencies and industry partners with expertise in AI. The Management Committee will be co-chaired by Mr Tan Kok Yam, Deputy Secretary, Smart Nation and Digital Government (SNDG) in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Professor Ho Teck Hua, who is also heading the Data Science Consortium mentioned above.

Three objectives

AI.SG has three primary objectives. The first is to use AI to address major challenges that affect society and industry. As an example,  Mr Bruce Liang, Chief Executive Officer of IHiS and Chief Information Officer of Ministry of Health spoke about the possibility of AI application in supporting prevention, diagnosis, treatment plans, medication management, precision medicine and drug creation.

The second objective is to invest in deep capabilities, such as next-generation “explainable” AI systems exhibiting more human-like learning abilities, adjacent technologies such as computing architectures (integrating software, firmware and hardware) and cognitive science. The NRF Fellowship and Investigatorship schemes will provide opportunities for early career researchers, as well as to mid-career,established, innovative and active scientists and researchers, to pursue ground-breaking research in Singapore.

The third major objective is to broaden adoption and use of AI and machine learning within industry. AI.SG will work with companies to use AI to raise productivity, create new products, and translate and commercialise solutions from labs to the market.

The press release states a target of delivering 100 meaningful AI projects and proofs-of-concept to solve real-world problems, starting with the sectors of finance, healthcare and city management solutions.

AI.SG will work with AI start-ups, corporate laboratories and individual enthusiasts via networking events, hackathons. It will nurture a local community of doers and thinkers in AI by creating an’ environment with shared resources and facilities, including AI.SG software tools and frameworks released under appropriate open source license, anonymised datasets, and world-class AI high-performance computing resources.

AI.SG will also work closely with the Singapore Data Science Consortium to  exploit synergies, using data for deepening AI technologies and tools, and leveraging AI to automate and develop deeper, actionable data science insights.

“AI.SG builds on the current AI knowledge and capabilities that we have built up across our Singapore-based research institutions with our past R&D investments. I am confident that the modality of AI.SG will fully integrate existing R&D and facilitate the translation of R&D into solutions for business commercialisation and better provision of public services. NRF will also continue to monitor global shifts in technology and drive new opportunities in technology areas that are strategic for Singapore,” said Professor Low Teck Seng, CEO, NRF.

Mr Steve Leonard, Founding CEO, SGInnovate said: “R&D in Singapore has already gained international recognition, and there is tremendous momentum in areas around AI such as computer vision, natural language processing and machine learning. AI.SG will serve as a powerful point of concentration of intellectual, physical and financial resources committed to working with AI. At SGInnovate, we work with entrepreneurial people focused on taking their ‘deep-tech’ research further, and we look forward to a rich pool of new AI-related opportunities to pursue.”

1 Both NUS and NTU announced initiatives in the areas of data science and AI last week

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