Asean’s ‘little red dot’ about to burst with home-grown AI applications (video)

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Has an artificial intelligence (AI) ever given you advice about education, finances, or love? If yes, you might want to thank (or otherwise) the many researchers and developers in Singapore, a tiny red dot on most maps, set to become very large in the high-tech world of AI application development.

AI applications produced in Singapore not only advise users on educational or financial matters, they also ensure hospital patients get the right medication and help screen Asia’s top entrepreneurial talent.

In addition, a growing number of deals and partnerships are being finalised that could see Singapore emerge as the Asean hub for AI applications. These applications, judging by the proposals, are being designed to do almost anything from improving the operational efficiency of the Singapore Air Force, to devising better ways to find a love match.

While no Singapore companies have yet made it to CB Insights’ list of the 100 most promising private AI companies in the world, Singapore government agencies appear bent on changing that.

Singapore best city for AI investment

Why tech giants see Singapore as next AI hub. Euth Welthy

After all, fDi Intelligence magazine ranks Singapore as the most attractive city in the world for investments into AI and robotics, “welcoming 22 projects between 2013 and 2017 – the highest of all 71 locations analysed.”

Additionally, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) was ranked second in the world by Nikkei and The Elsevier for having the most-cited research papers in AI and data science.

Demand for AI technology for use in commercial enterprises has been on the rise in all Asean countries, according to Digital News Asia. Overall, across all of Southeast Asia (SEA) the AI adoption rate increased from 8 per cent last year to 14 per cent this year.

Perhaps surprisingly, Singapore is only third on a list of four Asean members ranked by that measure, with only a meagre 9.9 per cent of the city-state’s organisations using some form of AI in their operations. Indonesia tops the list with an AI-adoption rate of 24.6 per cent. Thailand is second with 17.1 per cent, while Malaysia ranks below Singapore with an 8.1 per cent adoption rate.

Thailand possibly reached second place in the AI rankings by beginning to researching and teach AI technology in government universities more than 40 years ago. Though it wasn’t until 2010 that the country’s AI industry started accelerating as the result of a locally conceived “CyberBrain” platform that enabled developers to collaborate and help eliminate duplication of research and effort.

AI at the core of  increasing number of deals

Meanwhile, in Singapore, universities, research institutions, private companies and government agencies have rapidly been negotiating and sealing numerous deals and partnerships that have AI at the core. For example:

The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Alibaba Cloud signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on August 15 to launch an innovation incubator programme for nurturing Singapore’s data science talents in line with the city-state’s Smart Nation initiative. It includes an internship programme.
Silka Miesnieks (centre), the head of Adobe’s design lab, speaks during a panel discussion at Fortune Brainstorm Design 2018, a conference held in Singapore in early March to explore facets of the future of artificial intelligence. Stefen Chow/Fortune

Singapore-based Ascendas-Singbridge is in an ongoing project with Microsoft’s Smart Building Solutions and Azure Machine Learning to develop AI technology that will be able to predict when equipment might fail.

Likewise, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has been working with four other government agencies, including AI Singapore, to improve multilingual speech recognition programmes for increasing the efficiency of emergency response operators and dispatchers.

Additionally, Singapore and the city of Nanjing signed at least two MoUs during the Sixth Singapore-Nanjing Special Projects Cooperation Panel (SNCP) at the end of May in Nanjing to develop AI for use in devising better water management and finding clean tech solutions,

Meanwhile Ngee Ann Polytechic started working in May with the London-based Centre for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CFTE) to launch an online course teaching AI in finance. In July the National University of Singapore began collaborating with the online ride-hailing app Grab to establish an artificial intelligence laboratory.

One name that appears in many transactions is that of AI Singapore. An agency of the state-connected National Research Foundation (NRF), founded according to its website, “to catalyse, synergise and boost Singapore’s AI capabilities to power our future, digital economy”.

AI Singapore’s most recent deals

Among AI Singapore’s recent deals is an MoU signed with ThoughtWorks on July 4 to promote AI training, research and development.

AI Singapore is also one of several Singapore organisations, including Temasek Polytechnic and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), that have signed research and development deals with IBM.

One of the most recent AI Singapore partnerships was announced on August 25 with it entering a partnership with Voila.AI, a “dating and relationships AI” powered by blockchain, and Singapore Management University to improve AI applications that help people find love and otherwise manage their romantic relationships.

The National University of Singapore (NUS), for one, sees “sunny days” ahead for the city-state’s “data science talent” and Merlin Linehan, a banking expert writing for, agrees:

“While the government may provide the direction and framework of a tech friendly city, it is the concentration of entrepreneurial talent that can spark the flame of innovation that will create new world beating AI based firms and could make Singapore the focal point of this new sector”, he said recently when writing about AI development in Asia.



  • NUS, Alibaba Cloud partner in big data, AI (NUSNews)
  • AI Singapore forges partnership to push Singapore’s AI Agenda (OpenGov)
  • Adoption of Artificial Intelligence on the rise in Asean (Digital News Asia)


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