A new public-private trial in Singapore is taking place to test the use of autonomous robots in providing on-demand deliveries in a residential area in Punggol. The trial will pave the way for wider use of autonomous robot couriers in making on-demand deliveries to consumers.
The one-year trial is a multi-agency collaboration led by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), in partnership with Housing & Development Board (HDB), Land Transport Authority (LTA), Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), logistics service provider CM Logistics, supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice and technology provider OTSAW.
Robot Trial to Explore Deliveries in Live Environment
“With the growth of e-commerce, consumers have grown accustomed to expecting food, products and groceries to be delivered to their home in increasingly shorter periods of time. Autonomous delivery robots can play an important role in augmenting existing delivery infrastructure to enhance the consumer experience and drive productivity gains. We look forward to working closely with our partners in this trial to test the technology, safety, business model and user experience,” said Mr Kiren Kumar, Deputy Chief Executive, IMDA.
The trial will see two OTSAW robots delivering parcels and groceries to the lift lobbies of seven Waterway Woodcress HDB blocks to assess:
• Technologies such as AI for autonomous navigation, obstacle detection and avoidance
• Infrastructure such as communications systems and road networks (including connectivity and slopes)
• Business models for commercial viability.
Robots Pass Safety Assessment for Use on Public Paths
To ensure public safety, both autonomous robots have passed the LTA’s safety assessment for the supervised use of autonomous vehicles on public paths. The speed for each robot, which weighs 80 kg (unloaded), is further capped at walking speeds (about 5 kmh). Each robot is also accompanied by a safety officer during the trial period.
“Autonomous delivery technology has the potential to increase business efficiency and improve customer convenience. As paths are also used by other users, it is also important to ensure the delivery is carried out in a safe manner. We have worked closely with our partners to put in place safeguards to ensure public safety during this trial and the insights gathered will help improve future similar projects,” said Mr Lam Wee Shann, Chief Innovation and Transport Technology Officer, LTA.
Through a mobile app, consumers will be notified when the robot is on the way to its destination and will receive a confirmation notification that the robot has arrived. The robot will also provide a QR code for recipients to scan at the collection point via their mobile phones, ensuring that only the authorised person will be able to access the assigned compartment and its contents.
“Urban logistics keep the city going by delivering goods to people and businesses efficiently. Employing technology to explore alternate and innovative modes of delivery is one way Singapore builds a world-class urban logistics system that also enhances land and labour productivity. This enables our city to become more liveable, sustainable and connected,” said Mr Chiu Wen Tung, Group Director (Research & Development), URA.
The use of a simple organic molecule during the fabrication of a two-dimensional (2D) perovskite results in one of the highest recorded efficiencies for perovskite-based devices. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) employing this 2D perovskite material achieved an external quantum efficiency as high as 20.5%, which rivals the best organic LEDs, according to research co-led by City University of Hong Kong (CityU).
Led by Professor Andrey Rogach, Chair Professor at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, CityU, and his collaborator Professor Yang Xuyong from Shanghai University, the research team has worked on 2D perovskite materials and succeeded to realise such efficient and bright green LEDs.
Their technology yielded the best-reported performance on both current efficiency and external quantum efficiency. This work has now put the perovskite LEDs close on the heels of current commercial display technologies, such as organic LEDs.
The findings were published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, titled “Smoothing the energy transfer pathway in quasi-2D perovskite films using methane sulfonate leads to highly efficient light-emitting devices”.
The key to the powerful change lies in the addition of around 10% of a simple organic molecule, called methane sulfonate. This molecule reconstructs the structure of the 2D perovskite nanosheets, while simultaneously enhancing exciton energy transfer between sheets of different thicknesses. It is also useful in reducing defects in the 2D perovskite structure, contributing to higher efficiency.
The consequences for producing better LEDs are encouraging. The brightness of 13,400 candela/m2 at a low applied voltage of 5.5 V and external quantum efficiency of 20.5% is recorded. This is close to the maximum that can be achieved by many existing LED technologies and has almost doubled the external quantum efficiency level of 10.5% reported in the previous collaborative study of the same groups two years ago.
“The CityU team has built up its expertise on perovskite materials to a very high level in a relatively short period of time, thanks to funding support from Senior Research Fellowship by the Croucher Foundation,” said Professor Rogach.
“The high brightness, excellent colour purity, and commercial-grade operating efficiency achieved marks 2D perovskites as an extremely attractive material for future commercial LEDs, and potentially also display technology. It’s a tangible outcome from both fundamental and applied research into novel nano-scale materials” he adds.
Other collaborators include researchers from CityU, Shanghai University, Jilin University, University of Science and Technology of China, Nankai University, Wuhan University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Innovation in LED tech
According to an earlier OpenGov Asia article, researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have discovered a novel way to enhance the efficiency of the ultraviolet (UVC) light-emitting diode (LED) disinfection technique and developed a closet that could kill 99.99% of the bacteria and viruses on the garment inside within a minute. The closet is now in use at three special schools under Po Leung Kuk.
UVC is widely used for disinfecting purposes in private and public facilities, but the light source of existing UVC disinfection products are mainly mercury lamps, which not only has lower germicidal efficiency but is also bulkier with a much shorter lifespan than the LED light.
Moreover, mercury lamp has a longer disinfection cycle and requires time for warming up while LED emits light instantly. Since last year, over 140 nations, including the US, EU, China, Japan and Australia, have implemented a treaty on gradually phasing out the use of toxic mercury in commercial and industrial processes.
However, despite LED lights’ superiority over its mercury-based counterpart, it is not yet widely adopted in sterilisation products due to its narrow beam angle and low output efficiency with traditional single-layer reflector.
New Zealand has installed its most powerful supercomputer for artificial intelligence (AI) applications at the University of Waikato. The move aims to put New Zealand among the leading countries in AI research and development.
According to a news report, the NVIDIA DGX A10, nicknamed the Ferrari of computing, is the first computer of its kind in New Zealand and the world’s most advanced system for powering universal AI workloads. The machine can rapidly and efficiently process massive amounts of data, allowing students and researchers at the University to process at lightning-fast speeds. It enables machine learning and AI that can solve problems from addressing climate change to managing the country’s biodiversity.
Machine learning uses algorithms to explore huge data sets and create models that provide answers or outcomes mirroring human decision-making. Models can be trained to recognise patterns, facial expressions, and spoken words. They can also detect anomalies like credit card fraud. It uses artificial neural networks – computer software styled on the human brain – to learn how to make predictions in particular areas through deep learning. The model makes its own predictions then tests these against real-world results and is trained by humans to recognise what went wrong in a quest to create a more accurate model.
One of the first projects the computer is being used for is to train models that can learn and classify New Zealand’s plants and animals, based on a publicly available database of more than one million photos. Albert Bifet, a Professor at the university, said that students and researchers could take months, or even years, to process the data needed to create models like the one they are working on if they had to use more traditional computing. The computer will allow the researchers to process the data in a matter of days. It will enable them to gain insights and progress their research at an unprecedented scale, he noted.
The purchase was made possible through income from the sale of commercial licenses to the Waikato Environment for Knowledge Analysis (WEKA) software. It is a suite of Java-based software tools for machine learning and data mining that the machine learning group at the university has been developing for more than 20 years, the report explained.
“Being able to use the funds from WEKA, which has proved so successful, is a real win for us. WEKA software has been bought by several large international IT companies. It shows the success and depth of expertise we have here and has enabled us to reinvest back into our group,” Professor Bifet said.
The system was supplied by Fujitsu and fits into one-quarter of a computing rack in the University’s main server room. The NVIDIA A100 Tensor Core GPUs featured in the DGX A100 system enables enterprises to consolidate training, inference, and analytics into a unified, easy-to-deploy AI infrastructure. NVIDIA Mellanox InfiniBand networking ensures that the data is rapidly supplied to the system.
The report said that the A100 GPUs enable data scientists and developers to perform a massive number of calculations all at once, a key feature of the algorithms behind machine learning and AI. The DGX A100 has eight A100 GPUs containing 40 GB (gigabytes) of memory each for a total of 320 GB of GPU memory. When they all work together, they can process five quadrillion basic arithmetic operations per second.
Two tech firms operating under the Hong Kong Smart Government Innovation Lab recently announced that they have launched new solutions which are now ready to be acquired by companies and institutions.
Solution one – City Traffic Simulation System
The system that the firm provides allows users to trial virtual routes using dummy cars (virtual vehicles) so that they can experience the latest routes and collect feedback on them without having to wait until the roads are built to find out the problems.
Firstly, the system can improve the effectiveness of traffic route design. Secondly, the system can reduce and avoid road traffic congestion caused by road design. Third, collected data can be used for further development of many other technologies including autonomous driving AI.
The solution was developed to be applied in the areas of City Management, Commerce and Industry, Development, Environment, Health, Housing, Population, Recreation and Culture, Social Welfare as well as Transport.
The developed using the latest in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Data Analytics, Deep Learning and Virtual Reality.
The collected data can be used for the further development of many other technologies, including autonomous driving artificial intelligence. Although the development of this new technology requires a lot of data, the firm found that realistic and games are the perfect tool for acquiring large amounts of data.
Solution two – micro-segmentation solution
The second innovation is a micro-segmentation solution that prevents the spread of breaches inside data centres and cloud environments. Various global enterprises use the firm’s system to reduce cyber risk and achieve regulatory compliance.
The firm’s platform uniquely protects critical information with real-time application dependency and vulnerability mapping coupled with micro-segmentation that works across any data centre, public cloud, or hybrid cloud deployment on bare-metal, virtual machines, and containers.
The solution was meant to be applied across the areas of Broadcasting, City Management, Climate and Weather, Commerce and Industry, Development, Education, Employment and Labour, Environment, Finance, Food, Health, Housing, Infrastructure, Law and Security, Population, Recreation and Culture, Social Welfare, Transport as well as in public organisations.
The solution employs the latest in Data Analytics, Deep Learning, Machine Learning and Cybersecurity.
The tech company has assisted many organisations to reduce firewall complexity rules by 95%. Moreover, the solutions have seen 15,000 firewalls rules reduced to 40 security policies and had saved over US$300,000 in labour and transformation costs.
The firm also segmented development and production environments without having to shift infrastructure or re-architect their network, saving over US$200,000 in re-architecture costs.
The tech company provides precise protection of critical applications, enabling Zero Trust control against the spread of potential attacks, easy-to-deploy micro-segmentation with quick time to value; reliability and confidence from testing; visibility for cross-team collaboration; and millions in savings vs. ACI and NGFWs.
About the Smart Government Innovation Lab
In 2018, the Government established the Smart Government Innovation Lab to explore hi-tech products such as AI and relevant technologies, including machine learning, big data analytics, cognitive systems and intelligent agent, as well as blockchain and robotics from firms, especially local start-ups.
The Lab is always on the lookout for innovation and technology (I&T) solutions that are conducive to enhancing public services or their operational effectiveness. I&T suppliers are encouraged to regularly visit the Lab’s website to check on the current business and operational needs in public service delivery and propose innovative solutions or product suggestions to address them.
This is Part 2 of a two-part series covering the Public Sector Innovation Day – Singapore. Read Part 1 here.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant changes in the world. It has ushered in a new normal, bringing a different era of governance and business operations. Technology is at the fore of this front, helping adapt to these disruptive changes in an unprecedented manner. The scale of this transformation is incredible – experts say CVOID-19 has driven two years of digital transformation in two months.
The public sector is at the heart of the response to COVID-19. The response has required action on multiple fronts, using technology advancements, not just for health measures, but to aid efforts to mitigate the economic effects on households, firms, and industries.
The crisis has drawn attention to the tools and technologies that governments need to have to protect their citizens and enterprises as agencies struggle to minimise associated negative impact, deliver public services, and ensure the continued development of critical national infrastructure.
A digitally enabled government must go beyond merely digitising processes and offering services online. It must also find innovative ways to raise productivity in workplaces and bring convenience and efficient services to citizens.
As the world prepares for the new normal and all the economic, social, and political question marks that accompany it, many are looking to the tools of data science to continue to inform this trajectory. Advanced data science, and the technology it powers, is rapidly becoming an essential component of nearly every industry.
The Singapore government, too, is looking to ramp up the adoption of digital technologies and the nation to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Simultaneously national tech agencies developing new digital tools and services to support citizens and businesses. This requires a comprehensive approach including the ability to rapidly integrate new data, make accurate, multilevel forecasts and provide data-driven insights for policymakers.
Now, even as the journey to a post-COVID-19 recovery has begun, the question is still relevant: does the public sector has the necessary tools and technologies to respond effectively, recover quickly, rebound efficiently and reimagine the future which is critical to national interests?
OpenGov Asia held a Public Sector Innovation Day 1 for Singapore at Intercontinental Singapore. The session aimed to impart knowledge on how public sector agencies can accelerate digital transformation and innovation to emerge stronger post-COVID-19.
Attended by key policymakers from the public sector and technology industry experts, the session served as a great peer-to-peer learning platform to gain insights and practical solutions to understand the value of cutting-edge technologies available to make better, faster, and more cost-effective, data-driven decisions that make a difference in the lives of the citizens post-pandemic.
How COVID-19 Accelerated Public Sector’s Digital Transformation
To kickstart the session, Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief at OpenGov Asia delivered opening remarks.
As early as 2019, there was consensus on the benefits of remote working, but it did not happen in any significant way. Then, at the end of 2019 came a crisis so debilitating that it brought the world to a halt almost overnight and it kept going relentlessly.
but not all were equipped to do so and many just emulated what the other countries were doing. None the less, public services globally have been significantly boosted.
Countries from all over the world were looking to adapt to the challenge. Citizens needed access to government services more intensely and urgently. New information and data were being generated incessantly, necessitating new plans and decisions.
In the early stages, people were excited at the opportunity to work from home. Interestingly though, the step was considered a “pivot” – with the connotation of reaction rather than strategic. People and organisations were said to be “pivoting” to manage and mitigate the issues the pandemic brought like making people work from anywhere, anytime.
Beyond a doubt, the public sector did its job in terms of providing relevant services and initiatives throughout the age of COVID-19. But the question remains, were those initiatives innovative and intentional and sustainable? Were they just a good-to-have or a must-have?
The good brings with it the bad, the unsafe and the difficult. As the initial euphoria of remote working wears thin, people, once happy about the shift, realise that the new normal disrupts their work-life balance and their well-being. Other measures are facing the same reaction. Lacking data, this so-called digital transformation is rapidly losing its sheen and is being considered a band-aid solution.
With COVID-19 seemingly waning and the economy starting to open, governments are looking for ways to boost their economy. In this sea of change and disruption, often reverting to the known is comforting. Knowing this penchant, Mohit asked the delegates, “Do we want to go back to the old norm because it was beneficial at that time? Or should we welcome the wider adoption of technologies that helped us adjust to the new norm?”
Mohit reminded the delegates that by staying true to the lessons learned from COVID-19 and by increasing the usage of technologies like AI, Cloud and Data Analytics, agencies can move further along on their digital transformation journey.
Governments must find the right balance in their digital transformation journey between technology, people, and processes. They must also find leadership and the will to empower the workforce with the right tools to achieve the ultimate end goal of a complete digital transformation in the new normal.
In closing, Mohit emphasised the need for agencies to find a suitable partner in this digital journey. They must find the right people who do what they do best for them to stay on the right path towards a full digital transformation.
Responsible and ethical use of AI in the public sector challenges, and best practices
After Mohit’s opening remarks, the forum heard from Dr Ian Oppermann, Chief Data Scientist and CEO, NSW Data Analytics Centre, NSW Government on how the public sector can use AI responsibly and ethically.
Highlighting the importance of data, Ian said it now affects all aspects of citizen-focused outcomes, based on life journeys such as starting a family, education, jobs, serious illness and injury and retirement plans. In New South Wales (NSW), data has been empowering these social and community areas and will be used to assess the performance of future smart initiatives developed by the NSW Government and its partners.
NSW recently released a Smart Places Strategy with a citizen-centric view, building on years of work and enhanced by digital twins, data sharing, security and privacy. The NSW government Smart Places is is designed to deliver outcomes to benefit the citizens, businesses, employees and partners.
The outcomes span six key areas and were developed using insights from engagement with communities across regional and metropolitan NSW. The Smart Places Strategy focuses on:
- Skills, jobs, and development: grow knowledge capital of people and businesses in NSW to benefit from the transition of the global economy
- Safety and security: provide safer places for people and increase a sense of security
- Environmental quality: (increase sustainability by reducing emissions, resource consumption and environmental impacts
- Equity, accessibility, and inclusion: will improve physical and digital access for the people of NSW to participate in economic and civic life
- Health and well-being: improve the quality of life and well-being for the people of NSW
- Collaboration and connection: bring people, businesses and governments, their data, and services together in a seamless way
More recently the NSW government launched an AI Strategy programme to improve service delivery and government decision-making. Undeniably, AI can play a key role in automating inefficient and manual processes to deliver better services to citizens and free up staff time for more critical or frontline work. AI can also assist in decision-making concerning resource allocation based on community need.
However, Ian confirmed, AI will not be used to make unilateral decisions that impact citizens or their human rights. While can assist in decision-making and service delivery, any AI-informed decision remains the responsibility of the agency using the technology. The government will carefully monitor the consequences of such decisions.
Further, the NSW Government approach is clear that no AI-informed decision will be made without those impacted being able to access a quick and efficient review. Citizens should be able to understand how their data is being used and for what purpose. Additional safeguards will need to be in place to ensure the right questions are being asked of the technology and that the correct legislative interpretation is informing the AI solution.
Recognising the speed at which technology develops and the need to build AI maturity, the immediate implementation of a mandatory AI policy and user guide was necessary. The policy sets clear requirements that agencies must address before sourcing and using AI. It will ensure a consistent approach to privacy, security, transparency and procurement of AI solutions.
Ian felt it was important that AI adopters know the key points and phases to consider when deploying AI systems namely:
- Pre-deployment phase: choose a data set that closely resembles the production system, select tools to test data, identify and eliminate data biases, execute non-functional testing, and perform data sanity checks.
- Post-deployment phase: review output from continuous feedback, establish failure threshold, use AI-monitoring platform(s) to identify code progressions, classify any required changes, identify new data parameters.
Most AI systems are unable to determine whether a task is appropriate or ethical. For AI systems to be successful, testers need to define the operational boundaries of the system and monitor them periodically to pre-empt problems. AI assurance systems utilise both human expertise and technology monitoring to help improve AI performance.
Reliant on data for training, AI adapts over time and show sensitivities to the quality of outputs. The learning allows the tool to generate better / more accurate results than earlier. AI algorithm may be extremely sensitive to the quality of data sets much more than others; e.g. adult/ not adult versus date of birth. An algorithm may initially produce a high-quality result but drift over time once an initial supervision training period is completed.
Ian feels that, ultimately, agencies must ensure a solid framework to help understand the entire data lifecycle from its storage up to the point of knowing its purpose. As better tools are built and more precise data microscopes and AI programmes are created, they must be used to deliver value to citizens.
Fireside chat: How can the public sector leverage data revolution to respond, recover and reimagine next-gen citizen-centric services?
The session proceeded to the fireside chat segment where Mohit and Remco den Heijer Vice President – ASEAN SAS discussed how the public sector can leverage data revolution to respond, recover and reimagine next-gen citizen-centric services.
Mohit started the discussion by asking Remco den Heijer how he sees data as the heart of the COVID-19 recovery. Remco explained that data analytics and AI are the perfect elements in terms of recovering from the pandemic because data is everywhere, both in the private and public sectors.
The world should embrace technologies that are scaling and continuously evolving. Disruptive technologies can extract actionable insights from this data, which is why both sectors must use this development and advantage to recover from the pandemic. Software, hardware, and related skills must be enhanced to leverage technology and data for recovery purposes. Technologies that are scaling and continuously evolving should be embraced.
Remco touched on the topic of AI being used by governments in their processes. AI adopters, he advises, must continuously update their AI models with new and updated data to strengthen their predictive capabilities that will provide possible solutions for present endeavours. He is convinced that that AI functions at its finest when it is incorporated with human intelligence. Having that human lens on top of the tech will always be an important aspect.
Remco urged delegates to continue doubling down on networks and partnerships and to continue learning from each other in this journey.
Power Talk and Interactive Discussion
After the informative presentations from distinguished speakers, Mohit joined Benedict Tan, Group Chief Digital Strategy Officer and Chief Data Officer, Singapore Health Services, Jason Loh, Head of Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, Asia Pacific, Global Tech Practice, SAS, Dr Steve Bennett, Director -Public Sector and Financial Services Practice, SAS, and Dr Yemaya Bordain, Director – IOTG Global, Public Sector Sales, Intel in the session’s Power Talk segment aided with polling questions.
In this uniquely formatted session, the audience was asked to vote in real-time to a set of questions. Speakers reflect on the responses and share their perspectives, making it a highly interactive and engaging session.
In the first poll, delegates were asked what percentage of their workforce would continue working remotely for the next six to twelve months. Over 57% of the delegates said between a quarter to a half (26%-50%) of their workforce will continue working from home.
Continuing along this line, the delegates were also asked if they think public sector employees would be allowed to work from home for more than 60% of the time. Votes were almost evenly divided, with 37% saying no, 33% felt they would be allowed and 29% were not sure.
Reflecting on this issue, Dr Steve Bennett felt that the emotional attachment between workers and a feeling of connectedness was what was missing in this new working structure. Technology must fill in the void of informal/personal connections only attained by working on site. So, while the current set up is good, he believes, there are ways to go beyond what is being applied today.
Benedict Tan added to this discussion by pointing out the limitations of remote working for the healthcare sector. The medical and care arena is not likely to further adopt the new working set up as hospitals and healthcare facilities are designed to be utilised on-site. Beyond the healthcare sector, he believes new infrastructure should improve on these new processes.
Dr Yemaya said that the new normal and the adjustments it brought made people appreciate how much innovation helped in an impromptu manner. However, from a citizen’s perspective, she explained that not having visible on-site workers to deliver public services can be problematic. Citizens sometimes think that if there is no one to facilitate these services personally, they are sub-par, even though results are consistent for physical and digital setups.
On being asked about how well equipped is the public sector in supporting a 75% remote workforce, almost half of the delegates said there is a lack of collaboration tools for seamless remote work and the appropriate solutions are still be explored. The remaining group (42%) said they have the tools needed to allow remote work seamlessly.
Dr Yemaya Bordain firmly believes that if governments can find the right collaboration tools in this new working set up, it would boost the morale of their workers who will adopt this change in engagement.
In the new working environment, Jason Loh felt that people are more connected than ever before because remote working bridges gaps and crosses borders effectively.
Delegates were about the ways on how they measure the level of satisfaction of their hybrid workforce. Just over half (52%) indicated they have the tools but are not sure of the effectiveness. About a third (32%) said that they would like to measure the level of satisfaction and productivity of employees and are looking for appropriate solutions.
In light of the previous answers, delegates were asked if they felt they were in the right position to roll out new citizen services or initiative while having a remote workforce. An overwhelming majority (81%) felt they were well placed to do so but they have limited functionalities. Just under a fifth (18%) said they would like to roll out these new citizen services, but they need help to do it.
Dr Steve Bennett agreed that there was a wide range of positive outcomes when working remotely but the issue of burnout does come up. Governments and organisations must find the right balance in this new working environment.
Asked about data playing an integral role in recovery plans post-pandemic, 91% of the delegates agreed that data would be critical in the world’s recovery phase.
However, Dr Yemaya Bordain said that the usage of data needs to be in context and must apply to all backgrounds. It needs to have details attached to it to reap its benefits.
Exploring the obstacles, the agencies should overcome to make data science and AI useful and integral in crises, 45% agreed that the lack of skills poses the biggest challenge. A quarter (25%) considered the change in public sector policies as an obstacle while the remaining 25% felt that cultural shifts hinder the adoption of these technologies.
To round off the discussion, delegates were asked about the areas they plan to prioritise in terms of IT spending for the second half of 2021. Over a third (37%) said they would invest in advanced analytics and AI, while 12% indicated spending for communications technologies and automation workflows software was a priority.
The OpenGov Public Innovation Day 2 – Singapore – Virtual Edition ended with the closing remarks from Remco den Heijer.
At the end of the day, Remco said, the public sector exists to serve citizens. If anything can be done to improve, or even save lives, that is rewarding enough. He added that the digital age is an exciting time to be in, and governments must utilise this era to improve more lives. The promise of data analytics, AI and other disruptive technologies are real. To reap their full benefits, everyone must be open to partnerships, collaborations, sharing data, technology choices, and exploring new ideas – connectedness must be promoted if the world is to learn and improve as a society.
For more on OpenGov Asia’s Public Sector Innovation Day – Singapore: “Accelerating Digital Transformation, Resiliency, and Innovation for Public Sector in Post-Pandemic Recovery”, read Part 1 here.
The world is also rapidly becoming more urban. In the 1800s, only about 3% of people lived in urban areas. By the 1950s, that had spiralled to around 29% and currently, over 50% of the world lives in a city. The UN predicts that by the year 2050, 68% of the population will live in urban centres.
What is more interesting now is the development of Smart Cities – cities that are made on technology and that are dependent on technology. Studies show that most cities around the world now have some smart features – some more than others.
With high population density and buildings squeezed together to maximise space, millions of people living near each other come with challenges. These are risks are exacerbated with natural disasters or other calamities. An earthquake might devastate the structure of a city and leave thousands missing and buried in the rubble. A flood may not just leave a few people stranded on rooftops but, in an urban setting, could leave millions in a perilous state.
The solution to these issues lies in the idea of Smart Cities – urban living spaces that have all the basic infrastructure designed by and built on technology. In addition, it has tech-enabled predictive, preventive, and responsive measures put in place to manage critical events.
OpenGov Asia had the opportunity to speak exclusively to David Graham, Chief Innovation Officer, City of Carlsbad.
As the Co-Chair of the San Diego Regional Smart Cities Collaborative, Co-Chair of the Harvard Technology and Entrepreneurship Centre City Innovation programme and the City of Carlsbad Chief Innovation Officer, David is focused on co-creating the cities of the future and training the leaders who will make it possible.
With vast political, operations and management experience, David has been passionate about embedding innovation at all levels. He has worked with local governments for over twenty years in both the public and private sectors that encompass several multi-agency and city-academic partnerships.
Having provided smart solutions for large cities, David currently works with medium-sized communities – like Carlsbad. In terms of scope, it is on par with most of the country’s states. He strongly believes that if innovative change can be incorporated in a city like Carlsbad, it could be a shining example for the rest of the country. Passing information, technology, best practices have a significant impact on the development of other smart cities across the country.
To give some perspective, Carlsbad was named “Digital Capital” by a multinational technology company in its annual E-City awards programme. Analysing the online strength of the small-business communities of all fifty states in the US, the tech company honoured one city from each of the fifty states as the new “digital capital.” These cities’ businesses are using the web to find new customers, connect with existing customers and fuel their local economies.
For cities with a mission to innovate, David conceded that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the work that needs to be done immediately. Government services had to move to the digital space to conduct their programmes.
Data integration became more vital than ever before – building more communication and ICT infrastructure for operations to be able to assess the public’s immediate needs in terms of services and how to deliver those services in a contactless manner.
The pandemic also heightened the need for innovation and in fact, it should be a strong motivator for action – “anyone in the government can and should be an innovator”. David and his team are keen to instil the drive for innovation. They want to provide incentive and opportunity for the government to approach their job with a continuous improvement perspective and where they feel empowered for being part of the change.
The Carlsbad council with David’s help, have already identified deficiencies in their technology and communication platforms and they are committed to continuously improving them. First on their to-do list was to utilise digital collaboration tools better and more comprehensively within the council itself. With time and availability being rare commodities, David and his team conducted meetings virtually – well before the pandemic. So, when COVID-19 struck, they knew that these digital tools would be even more important.
In terms of connectivity, Carlsbad is using consumer-grade broadband. Understanding the pressing need early on, prior to the pandemic, David convinced the council to collaborate with a third-party fibre connection provider. Through this, they were to build a digital information network with a 200-500 gigabyte core network ahead of the COVID-19 crisis.
David acknowledges, for the most part, everyone overcame organisational barriers at such a lightning pace due to necessity brought on by the pandemic. The world had to accelerate because there were no other options.
With a little breathing space now as infection rates drop and vaccination programmes being rolled out, organisations need to be more intentional. They should assess what they have been able to do, and from that, prepare for what is coming next and make sure they do not return to normal, as everyone is in a better place in terms of innovation after the pandemic. David said, “it would be a tragedy if we snapped back to our old reality without learning the lessons of what we have gone through.”
Interestingly, an added inhibitor is animosity. In stressful times it is easy to take offence. People and organisations must put personal differences aside because, in the era of COVID-19, everything is potentially a matter of life and death. Issues cannot be around territories or jurisdictions. This is the time to share vital information on possible solutions that serve the greater good.
The pandemic has driven radical change in operations such as remote work. Initially, much of the measures were ad hoc or designed to be temporary and David believes there is place for some adjustments. Remarkably, though, this new set up seems to be working just fine for most organisations in some way, shape or form. The trust that cities paced in their employees played a role in the success of the setup as well as the commitment of staff to continue to deliver citizen-services throughout the pandemic.
None the less, in the public sector, he notes, that there is still a lack of good project management and collaboration tools. These are vital to assess key performance indicators and allow for monitoring and feedback.
Governments must not only think about infrastructure when dealing with a critical event. They should consider ways to improve the experiences of users on these platforms by providing good services. With this as a backdrop, David listed three crucial areas that governments and organisations should focus on.
The first one is transportation, transit, and mobility. Developing a sustainable urban tech programme demands an effective transportation system, especially in the current context where citizens are wary of using mass transit.
The second one is to accelerate data integration between organisations and agencies. Data from contact tracing apps, public records, travel information as well as announcements from federal and local agencies that can help curtail the effects of the pandemic must be shared quickly and comprehensively.
In Carlsbad, the council began to share such data for public consumption when the crisis was just starting to make its presence felt. Keeping the public aware, getting them motivated and making them part of the solution was vital for Carlsbad. Instead of just telling people what they needed to do, citizens were made an intrinsic part of the response. By doing so, the city managed to have the lowest number of COVID-19 cases of any city of its size in the region.
David reiterated that sharing data with the public and across agencies should be applied in all types of endeavours, not just in disasters. This is foundational for smart cities and communities to grow.
In addition to transportation and data integration, community amenities such as parks and libraries are integral to keeping the city on as even a keel as possible. David observed a surge in library inquiries during the pandemic – not just for books and the like – but also for workforce and training purposes.
Carlsbad launched several digital communication initiatives on social media platforms, via e-mails, etc., to let people know that these services were still available for citizens during the pandemic.
With their important role, these facilities should be digitalised. In fact, physical services should be expanded to the digital space where possible. With higher uptake, this is an opportunity for the government to accelerate the digital transformation of its services.
In the end, David acknowledges that the human angle to technology is the most difficult thing to incorporate. If governments and organisations can lead and begin with the human story, explaining why technological and data solutions are necessary, they will reap huge benefits in politics, the public and the community.
Three initiatives for the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) have been inaugurated by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). NIXI will play a significant role in helping Indian entities learn about and adopt IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6). IPv6 is the most recent version of the Internet protocol.
It provides identification and location information for devices and networks connecting to the Internet. A news report explained that the protocol is considered especially important with the impending move to 5G, which will increase the total number of devices connecting to the Internet. Last February, the Department of Telecom (DoT) had mandated all government organisations to transition to IPv6 by March 2020.
It said that IPv6 could offer better traceability and interaction between networks and devices in the future. This is a crucial factor, given the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is expected once 5G networks start rolling in.
NIXI was formed in 2003 and works to provide improved Internet services in the country. It was set up for peering ISPs among themselves to reroute domestic traffic within the country, instead of from abroad. This enhances the quality of service (reduced latency) and reduces bandwidth charges for ISPs by saving on international bandwidth.
IPv6 Expert Panel (IP Guru)
The IP Guru group was created to support Indian entities that have technical trouble migrating to and adopting IPv6. Additionally, the IPv6 expert group will identify and hire agencies to help end customers by providing the necessary technical support to adopt IPv6. The panel will guide and aid IPv6 adoption. It comprises members from DoT, MeitY, and private organisations.
The NIXI Academy educates technical and non-technical people in the country about technologies like IPv6, which are generally not taught in educational institutes. The platform helps network operators and educators understand networking best practices, principles, and techniques. It shows users how to manage Internet resources better and use Internet technologies more effectively.
The NIXI Academy consists of an IPv6 training portal, which was developed by several technical experts. It offers mass training tools. The beginner training materials offered initially will be available for free, but advanced courses may be offered in the future and will be chargeable. Successful candidates (that have passed the examination) will receive a certificate from NIXI, which will be useful to find jobs in the industry.
NIXI has also developed an IPv6 index portal for the Internet community. It will showcase the IPv6 adoption rate in India and across the world. It can be used to compare IPv6 domestic data with other economies in the world. The portal will provide details about IPv6 adoption and traffic, shortly. It is expected to motivate organisations to adopt IPv6. It will collect input and research for planning by technical organisations and academicians.
Organisations and governments aim to abolish the old IPv4 protocol, which was based on 32-bit systems. It could only accommodate 4.3 billion devices. This is not enough for the proliferation of devices connected to the Internet today. IPv6 is more secure, efficient, and mobile-friendly, making it a suitable system for use in the future of 5G. “The idea is that IPv6 addresses will be used as identifiers for both external and internal devices in your organization,” according to a technical policy analyst.
The Indian Supreme Court recently launched its first artificial intelligence-driven research portal, the Supreme Court Portal for Assistance in Court’s Efficiency (SUPACE). It is an AI-enabled assistive tool to improve the efficiency of legal researchers and judges by aiding the extraction of relevant information about a case. It can read case files, manage teamwork, and draft case documents.
As per a news report, the portal is accessible through a login ID and password. It provides easily accessible summaries, files, and documents of cases in the database. Tasks and the details of progress and people are also displayed. A universal search allows a user to scan through all the files in the database.
Through the portal, the Supreme Court intends to leverage machine learning to deal with the large amount of data received while case filing. Chief Justice SA Bobde, who inaugurated the portal, described it as a “hybrid system” and “a perfect blend of human intelligence and machine learning”.
The news report outlined the four parts of SUPACE’s AI-powered workflow:
- File Preview: The case files, typically available as PDFs, can also be converted into text. There is also a search tool to browse through the case files.
- Chatbot: The text and voice-enabled chatbot provides a quick overview of the case, by answering questions such as “What is the matter about?” or “Which fundamental rights of the petitioner are violated?” The Chatbot can switch between documents for the answer while allowing the user to check the source. It suggests further questions for a better understanding of the case. The user can print the entire question summary.
- Logic Gate: The fact extraction system for the chatbot is divided into four parts: Synopsis, FAQs, Evidence, and Case Law. These give information about the case such as the overview, chronology, and judgement. In the near future, with enough training and refinement of the algorithm, the chatbot will have the ability to answer any questions about the case- whether factual or contextual.
- Notebook: The portal offers an integrated word processor. The user can produce a summary of the case by simply collating all information auto-extracted from the database using the AI tool. Further, the portal offers a voice dictation option to prepare notes. Therefore, without typing a word, a summary document can be prepared as a soft or hard copy.
Justice L Nageswara Rao, who was present during the unveiling, is the current chairman of the Supreme Court’s Artificial Intelligence Committee. SUPACE has been designed to only process information and make it available to the Judges. Government officials have stressed the portal will not be involved in the decision-making of a case. For now, only the Judges in the Delhi and Bombay High Courts that deal with criminal cases will use the portal on an experimental basis. According to Justice SA Bobde, AI is better at processing words and figures and will only collect the data, discover facts, and present it to the Judges. The final call will rest with the Judges. AI in the judiciary system enables the automation of mundane processes. Legal teams have to process numerous amounts of data and implementing AI will reduce pendency and costs and increase speed and efficiency.