Immediate need for locals to plug AI talent gap in S'pore, says Israeli expert

Published on 29 March 2019 | By Irene Tham | Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

Challenge is immediate need for talent even as Republic already has schemes under way to train locals- he says.

Expert Opinion on AI in Singapore

Professor Isaac Ben-Israel- a retired Israeli major-general who sits on the board of Singapore's A*STAR. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Foreign experts can help Singapore be among the top 10 nations in the global artificial intelligence (AI) race- but the Republic also has to develop local talent to meet its needs- the father of Israel’s booming cyber-security industry told The Straits Times.

Retired Israeli major-general Isaac Ben-Israel- who sits on the board of Singapore’s Agency for Science- Technology and Research- said the country has the advantage of being small and nimble- with a leadership that can move things “very quickly”.

This speed is evident- he said- with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong helming the nation’s research and development (R&D) plans. But a big challenge is the immediate need for talent. Professor Ben-Israel said that while Singapore already has plans to train its people- there is a need to plug the current gap.

You will find yourself lagging in the industries critical to economic growth if you don’t have AI (leadership).

said Prof Ben-Israel- who was involved in developing Singapore’s cyber-security strategy launched in October 2016.

He added: “While you can temporarily fill the talent gap by using foreigners- you must develop your own (people) to meet national demands over the long term.”

That development is already under way. For instance- an inter-agency effort called AI Singapore has started a three-year programme to equip 12-200 Singaporeans- including professionals and engineers- with AI knowledge.

This is currently being done via workshops and apprenticeship programmes- with over 3-000 trainees having graduated with the necessary skill sets.

Expert Opinion on AI in Singapore

Professor Isaac Ben-Israel- a retired Israeli major-general who sits on the board of Singapore's A*STAR. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Prof Ben-Israel was in Singapore to attend the Republic’s 11th Research- Innovation and Enterprise Council meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. The meeting took stock of the progress of R&D here. The council was set up in 2006 to chart Singapore’s R&D direction.

At the end of the meeting on Wednesday- the council announced a $540 million top-up to funds allocated to R&D in fields such as AI- robotics and supercomputers.

With the boost- $900 million of the $19 billion fund called the Research- Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan will be set aside for R&D in those fields.

Prof Ben-Israel said universities also have a role to play in nurturing a nation’s start-up efforts- adding that having universities ranked among the top in the world will help Singapore in the race towards AI leadership.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is ranked third in the world for AI research- after the United States’ Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University- according to London’s leading education magazine Times Higher Education.

Although they are ranked by the citation impact of their research papers- NTU has also delivered real-world applications.

One notable project is Speedcargo- which is being used at Changi Airfreight Terminal to make air cargo management smarter.

Expert Opinion on AI in Singapore

Professor Isaac Ben-Israel- a retired Israeli major-general who sits on the board of Singapore's A*STAR. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Created by researchers from NTU and the Technical University of Munich- Speedcargo is an AI software that takes digital images of cargo packages and plans how the packages should be packed to optimise space. The project is funded by the National Research Foundation- which manages the $19 billion fund. Back in Israel- Prof Ben-Israel is in charge of a 300-man task force to develop his country’s national AI strategy. Among his recommendations is a plan to have AI taught to high school students.

The comprehensive strategy- including education and industry development efforts- is in the final stages of completion. It will be tabled to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in June. Israel wants to be among the top five exporters of AI products in the next five years. It is currently third in the area of AI start-ups- with 360 companies- according to the latest study by Germany-based consultancy firm Roland Berger.

The US leads the world with 1-400 AI start-ups- while China is in second place with about 380 start-ups. Singapore is in 14th place with 35 AI start-ups.

 

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Posted in : Interviews
Tags : AI  NTU