Singapore ups its AI strategy with Google Cloud collaboration

an aerial view of Singapore

Though a small Southeast Asian nation with a population of 5.45 million, Singapore has long voiced its big ambitions to stand at the forefront of global technological innovation, including AI.

Supported by its partners Google Cloud, The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), Digital Industry Singapore (DISG), Smart Nation Group (SNG) and Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG), the country launched the first Trailblazers initiative in July 2023 to help local organizations identify real-world challenges that can be addressed with generative AI.

AI Trailblazers 2.0

Singapore was one of the first countries to introduce a National AI Strategy, and as part of a plan set by deputy prime minister Lawrence Wong last year, the nation is acting to triple its pool of AI experts to 15,000, including machine-learning scientists and engineers.

Singapore is also preparing to host AI Trailblazers 2.0, the second of this kind initiative to cultivate a vibrant ecosystem of AI startups and encourage the creation of a sustainable pipeline of AI talent.

Since its inception, Trailblazers has addressed over 100 GenAI use cases from 84 organizations across government and industry. Building upon this progress, in the latest  ExploreAI summit, hosted at the Google Asia Pacific campus, the group of leaders spotlighted 43 organizations that have successfully built their own GenAI solutions, with 22 organizations continuing to refine their solutions before graduating from the initiative. 

AI Trailblazers 2.0, currently in preparation, is charged with helping up to 150 more organizations in Singapore rapidly build GenAI solutions to address their real-world challenges. This round will provide participating organizations with access to Singapore’s first GenAI Innovation Sandboxes, which allow participants to use Google Cloud’s unified AI stack consisting of high-performance AI-optimized infrastructure, in addition to its Vertex AI platform, foundation models and low-code developer tools, to assemble their own production-ready GenAI solutions.

“We believe that the goal of GenAI adoption should be to improve each individual’s effectiveness in their role by a certain percentage,” Mark Micallef, managing director, Southeast Asia of Google Cloud tells ERP Today. “By removing 20 to 25 percent of the drudgery work for a specific individual using GenAI, they will become more productive. Now, imagine how much more productive we could become as an economy and society if we do this at scale.”

Micallef also voices the collective hope that GenAI will enhance labor productivity, create new jobs and democratize access to higher-paid occupations as it helps automate routine tasks and some non-routine cognitive tasks, “so we must have a training system that continuously creates a ladder of opportunity for workers from all backgrounds,” he adds.

Google Cloud has become the Singapore government’s partner of choice for advancing GenAI adoption across the public and private sectors. This is thanks to Google Cloud’s AI-optimized infrastructure (resource-efficient supercomputing chips purpose-built to handle GenAI workloads) installed in its cloud data center in Singapore. Vertex AI will also deliver an end-to-end AI development platform for organizations to build and deploy GenAI solutions responsibly.

Philbert Gomez, vice president and head of Digital Industry Singapore, says that the AI Trailblazers initiative has already seen increased numbers of development and adoption of GenAI among companies based in Singapore. 

“These efforts will contribute to Singapore’s ambition of becoming a hub for AI innovation. With the success of the first AI Trailblazers initiative, we look forward to continuing this partnership with Google Cloud and will announce further details on AI Trailblazers 2.0 soon,” Gomez, shares.

Cultivating an ecosystem of AI startups

The country first set its AI ambition in 2019 as part of its National AI Strategy focused on deepening the use of AI to transform its economy when early investment in AI led to the establishment of about 150 teams working on research and development and 900 startups exploring new ideas with AI. Since then, the nation has seen significant breakthroughs in the sector with government-funded projects in areas like healthcare, education, safety and security committing more than $350m to AI research and development.

At present, predictive AI and analytical AI have been deployed across public services in Singapore, such as adaptive learning systems in schools, chronic health management systems in hospitals, immigration and customs clearance and in detection and deterring of online scams. Over 80 AI research faculties and 1,100 AI startups are also headquartered in the country.

Complementing the rest of these efforts, Google Cloud and EnterpriseSG recently launched a first-of-its-kind public-private startup program, Google for Startups Accelerator: AI First Singapore, designed to nurture and support globally-oriented innovators using GenAI as the core technology to build their products. The program is targeting to cultivate 100 high-potential AI startups over the next three years and scale the reach of their products into new markets.

“As the adoption of AI technologies gains momentum, it is important for Singapore to nurture a thriving AI ecosystem with startups that can push the boundaries in this field with innovations,” says Soh Leng Wan, assistant CEO of EnterpriseSG. “Our AI ecosystem can also serve to offer its AI expertise to uplift the growth and capabilities of wider industries.” 

As part of the program scheduled to kick off in April 2024, selected startups are to receive technology and resources to fast-track the development and commercialization of proprietary products using GenAI.

Some of the resources available to assist them include up to $350,000 in Google Cloud credits upon graduation from the program, mentorship and technical project support from Google’s product development teams, as well as the opportunity to showcase their achievements and connect with potential investors at a demo day.

Building a young cohort of AI talent

In a bid to rapidly address the growing demand for AI skills, Google also announced that it is extending an additional 3,000 Google Career Certificate scholarships to local distribution partners with a focus on upskilling mid-career professionals, bringing its total commitment to 13,000 scholarships. 

Google Cloud has also been collaborating with three Singaporean educators – Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) and Temasek Polytechnic (TP) to complement these schools’ curricula in cloud technology with the Google Cloud Computing Foundations value-added program and introductory level microlearning courses in GenAI.

This approach to building local GenAI knowledge is not strictly individual, meaning that the same strategies could apply to every other country beyond Singapore. “What we have achieved in partnership with the Singapore government in the past eight months has now become the blueprint for our work in other Southeast Asian markets, such as Malaysia and Thailand,” Micallef says.

With these efforts, Singapore is pursuing its AI goals with full gusto, and looks set to secure its place as a key player in the AI industry. Any bets on the next country to follow suit?