Enabling AI-ready talents for Singapore’s digital economy

 |   Kevin Wo, Managing Director, Microsoft Singapore

Earlier this year, I shared that 2018 will be the year artificial intelligence (AI) comes to the fore and begins to drive real impact in a truly ubiquitous and meaningful way. Already, IDC is predicting that spending on cognitive and AI systems will reach US$19 billion in 20181, an increase of 54.2 percent over the amount spend in 2017.

While there is little doubt that governments and businesses around the world are accelerating their investments in AI, new technology inevitably raises complex questions and broad societal concerns.

In particular, we must also pay attention to AI’s impact on workers. How will AI impact employment and jobs? If there has been one constant over 250 years of technological change, it has been the ongoing impact of technology on jobs — the creation of new jobs, the elimination of existing jobs and the evolution of job tasks and content. This too is certain to continue.

As digital technologies such as AI are changing the nature of work and Singapore’s economy, Microsoft is committed to making it our priority to help people and businesses navigate the threats that surface while realising the potential that AI has on the economy and society.

In collaboration with AI Singapore and industry partners, Microsoft will be contributing to empowering 12,000 Singaporeans to acquire AI knowhow through two new initiatives launched at AI Singapore’s first anniversary – AI for Everyone and AI for Industry.

Bringing AI to the masses

Artificial intelligence holds the key to a new era of innovation. To unlock the economic and societal benefits of AI, we believe that the AI building blocks that Microsoft is developing today such as computer vision, speech and knowledge recognition should be made accessible to everyone, every day and everywhere.

It is with this intention that we will provide content to AI for Everyone (AI4E), an initiative that will reach out to 10,000 Singaporeans ranging from secondary school students to working adults.

AI4E will be conducted by AI Singapore for free, and the programme will introduce participants to AI technology and how it can be used to improve the way one lives, works and plays.

Empowering our workforce to embrace AI

Singapore’s ability to nurture a future-ready workforce will be key to thriving in the digital economy, one where digital products and services will make up 60 per cent of our economy. To enable our workforce to thrive in today’s economy and prepare for tomorrow’s, we must help them gain skills that are relevant in the changing workplace. And that today is AI.

Through the AI for Industry (AI4I) initiative, Microsoft will contribute content for the three-month online-offline hybrid curriculum which will allow professionals to understand, apply and even develop AI and data applications.

Our collaboration through AI4I will allow us to further our aspiration to enable future-ready talents in Singapore, so that everyone can benefit from the promise of AI.

Building a trusted AI ecosystem

At Microsoft, we believe that the development and deployment of AI must be guided by ethical principles that are deeply rooted in timeless values. We believe that six principles should provide the foundation for the development and deployment of AI-powered solutions that will put humans at the center: fairness, reliability, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability. Ultimately, AI must assist humanity and be designed for intelligent privacy.

Beyond sharing our technology and knowledge, we also hope to collectively address AI issues and their implications on the society. How do we ensure that AI is designed and used responsibly? How do we establish ethical principles to protect people? How should we govern its use?

These are the questions we need to ask ourselves and I am excited to have my colleague, Andreas Ebert, Worldwide National Technology Officer, Microsoft Corporation, contribute to building a trusted AI ecosystem in Singapore through the Advisory Council on the Ethical Use of AI and Data.

At Microsoft, we are optimistic about the opportunities that AI provides to create a better future for all. To ensure that we future-proof Singapore, governments, businesses, academics and society will need to work together to ensure that citizens are embracing digital skills and creating trustworthy AI systems that are human-centered.

We have done that today, and we will need to continue doing so.

1 IDC Worldwide Semiannual Artificial Intelligence Systems Spending Guide

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