Singapore has taken the next step in its Smart Nation journey by launching the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy. The strategy should transform five key areas: transport and logistics, smart cities and estates, healthcare, education, and safety and security. This is because the strategy is rooted in the country’s strengths, such as its state-of-the-art infrastructure, effective governance, and good education system. A key beneficiary would be economic productivity, a crucial indicator of competitiveness in a land-and labour-scarce nation. That technology enhances value creation is well known. What artificial intelligence (AI) does is to multiply the productive value of technology itself by aligning it with human reasoning and skills in a way that was unimaginable earlier. Robotics is an example of how machines, programmed to perform repetitive or mundane everyday acts, can reduce the need for human intervention and free workers up for tasks that only humans can undertake, and also benefits them as consumers who gain from the resulting cheaper goods and services.

Workers can produce much of what machines can, but machines cannot produce all that humans can. In that difference rests the assurance that AI will not replace the need for human thinking, ingenuity and action – although it is true that AI will be intensely disruptive at the lower value-added areas of the economy. However, there is little choice but to move ahead because many countries, much larger and better naturally endowed than Singapore, are investing deeply in AI to shore up their competitive economic advantage. AI is a national imperative in a small city-state.

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