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Artificial Intelligence in Singapore: pervasive, powerful and present

Having the budget and resources to get on this AI bandwagon is one thing. There must also be a clear strategy within the business, the right talent and right tech support.

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An autonomous parcel delivery robot (centre), developed by Starship Technologies Ltd, on display at the AI Congress in London in January. If the right factors are into place, there are tremendous opportunities to be leveraged with the adoption of AI.

IF you ask people whether they think artificial intelligence (AI) will have an impact on their daily lives, many won't admit to having playbacks of science fiction films in their minds. While pop culture might have influenced how we imagine futuristic technologies might look like, what most of us don't realise is that technologies like AI are already here and look set to stay.

According to Seagate Technology's latest survey of IT professionals across the Asia-Pacific, AI adoption in Singapore is already so robust that at least six in 10 organisations have already implemented AI in one form or another within areas such as information technology (60 per cent), supply chain and logistics (48 per cent), customer support (49 per cent) as well as research and development (41 per cent).

And organisations are hungry for more - nine in 10 have said they are planning to implement AI in the next 12 months.

Data is the most fundamental building block that drives AI technology, enabling the likes of Siri, Cortana and Alexa to exist. While AI seems to have no issues merging seamlessly into consumer lifestyles, the road for businesses seems slightly bumpier in comparison. According to our survey, 76 per cent of businesses in Singapore said they struggle to know where and how to start with AI and that despite strengthening their IT infrastructure, they still feel a need to make further investments to handle growing data streams.

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AI FOR TODAY'S NEEDS AND TOMORROW'S GOALS

People and businesses are unanimous in their opinion that AI will impact our daily lives, and that there are productivity gains to be enjoyed through the adoption of this technology. Overall, we can expect to see a spike in the frequency, flexibility and immediacy of data analysis across industries and applications to drive business decisions.

One example is the financial services industry in Singapore, which has been at the forefront of developing and adopting AI technologies across functions in their businesses. AI-based automated chat systems that can interact with customers on personal finance queries in real time are now common in several local banking platforms in Singapore.

DBS Bank's AI-driven Virtual Assistant handles over 80 per cent of requests on Facebook Messenger accurately without human intervention; OCBC Bank's chatbot "Emma" has successfully closed more than S$70 million in home loans since its launch in 2017. Such services will ultimately improve service delivery, remove the stress and complexity of manual number crunching, and offer insights at greater speed and accuracy to facilitate quicker decision making in an industry where time is money.

This highlights the key role of Edge computing. Since the creation of the first hard disk drive, IT infrastructures have evolved from individual mainframes to decentralised servers, and now, mobile and cloud computing. Today, we are also increasingly seeing computing that takes place at the Edge to cater to the expanding need for the real-time responsiveness that AI, predictive analytics and machine-learning technologies demand.

The Asia-Pacific is at the centre of this digital transformation. According to IDC's Data Age 2025 report sponsored by Seagate, global data growth is expected to rise exponentially to 163 zettabytes by 2025, and with its vibrantly growing economies, emerging pools of talent and highly connected population, the Asia-Pacific is potentially a key region to drive this growth.

We see evidence of this especially in Singapore, a thriving hub for AI. The National Research Foundation (NRF) recently announced an investment of S$150 million in a new national programme aimed at boosting Singapore's AI capabilities over the next five years. Additionally, the government's vision for a Smart Nation, coupled with major technology companies such as Alibaba setting up global AI research facilities in Singapore, also point towards Singapore's appetite for AI and the opportunities it brings.

Success often depends on starting with a solid foundation. Similarly, for organisations looking to reap the benefits of data analytics and real-time data processing, proactive steps must be taken to build robust infrastructure to support and reshape the data that they collect.

The reality of implementing AI within an organisation is not a simple task. Almost half (46 per cent) of the respondents from Singapore we surveyed believe that their organisations have yet to invest sufficient man-hours and budgets in AI development and implementation.

However, budgets and resources are just part of the puzzle; oftentimes, there are multiple factors at play, such as whether there is a clear strategy and direction within the business, backed by the commitment from senior leadership and the right talent to drive overall AI adoption within an organisation.

Of equal importance is ensuring that the right "tech" is in place to support any sort of AI development.

Our interactions with data are expected to increase 20-fold to once every 18 seconds by 2025, putting greater demands on businesses that collect consumer data.

Given the recent data security breach faced by SingHealth, the expectation for organisations to keep data accessible while being safe and secure will be of paramount importance. Our Data Pulse survey also showed 92 per cent of respondents from Singapore agreed that they must invest in IT infrastructure to handle the growing volumes of data, with 27 per cent admitting that their current infrastructures aren't designed to deal with burgeoning data growth.

BE FUTURE-READY

It is an exciting time for all of us as both consumers and businesses - we are all on our respective journeys towards embracing the benefits and value that AI can bring. Data is the pulse behind AI functionality and we need to constantly evaluate how to best store, access and analyse data to glean insights that can help drive impactful decision-making.

With a solid foundation at the core, backed by robust organisational policies, there are tremendous opportunities to be leveraged with the adoption of AI. We look forward to future developments in this sector that will enable us "to boldly go where no man has gone before".

  • The writer is vice-president for Asia-Pacific Sales at Seagate Technology.