U.S. states that have adequate artificial intelligence capabilities – such as Massachusetts or California, which have universities with strong computer science programs, a capable information technology workforce, and some software and IT companies – could benefit by looking east, at a small Asian country already leading in AI. Just three years after its launch, Singapore’s ambitious AISG, the national research and innovation program pushing for global advantage in AI for the country’s 64 districts, is already funding high-quality research, promoting innovative AI solutions, encouraging small- and medium-sized enterprises to use AI, and continuously developing local AI talent.
So how does Singapore do it? Six Singaporean government agencies work in partnership to direct AISG, composed of those that govern national strategies in research and development, economic development, information technology, science, health care, and smart city development. Together, these agencies selected the National University of Singapore to lead AISG and engage with Singapore-based research institutions, AI startups and companies to develop the tools and talent needed to power Singapore’s AI vision.
To do this, AISG’s activities are anchored in four key areas – funding AI research, applying AI technologies, helping small companies adopt AI, and developing AI talent – that help Singapore focus attention and resources at a national level and enable researchers, government and companies to work cohesively. While some U.S. cities such as Stockton, California, have already created city-level AI strategies to coordinate their approach to AI, policymakers in larger cities and states can learn from Singapore’s four-pronged approach to develop and deploy scalable, impactful AI solutions.
The first area is in AI research. AISG annually announces calls for Singapore-based research proposals aimed at developing fundamental AI techniques, algorithms and adjacent technologies. For example, this year AISG is inviting proposals that advance the state-of-the-art in trustworthy or explainable AI, resource efficient AI and AI for collaborative decision-making. Singapore makes up for its small size by centralizing its AI research efforts, making it easier to prioritize and allocate resources to the ideas and applications that will have the greatest impact.
The United States is working toward developing a national AI strategy that will help focus AI efforts, but states will still need to develop statewide strategies if they want to address the specific opportunities and challenges AI will bring to their key sectors. Some states already have. For instance, Washington has established a task force charged with identifying policies to help its businesses and workers respond to rapid changes in emerging technologies that includes AI, and Vermont has established an AI task force whose role is to make recommendations on how state policymakers can support the responsible growth of the state’s emerging technology markets and provide guidance on how lawmakers should regulate the field.
The second area AISG prioritizes is applying researchers’ innovative AI technologies to address challenges of national importance. For instance, last year AISG launched a challenge calling for ways AI can help primary-care teams slow the development of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in patients, diseases that are present in approximately 20% of Singapore’s adult population. While these ailments also affect people in the United States, it is the opioid epidemic that has been intensifying for more than 20 years that continues to have devastating impacts on every state in the nation.
To better understand their own statewide opioid challenges and trends, every state should explore how AI can help inform their response efforts. Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, for example, is using AI to assess opioid misuse, enabling policymakers to tailor laws, target resources and design innovative programs to best address the opioid crisis in the state.
The third area AISG focuses on is helping small companies adopt AI. To accelerate AI adoption in industry, AISG recently launched AI Makerspace, a national AI platform that provides start-ups and small- and medium-sized companies with access to plug-and-play AI resources they can experiment with, such as tools that predict customer churn based on user profiles and behavior, as well as access to other open-source tools, including one for natural language processing.
To help startups in the U.S., some states have established regulatory sandboxes that enable firms to work with regulators to help discover legal gaps and test their innovative products, services and business models with real consumers in a controlled environment. So far, Arizona, Utah and Wyoming have passed legislation establishing sandboxes for innovative companies, but other states should follow suit if they want to help their researchers convert R&D output into useful, market-driven capabilities.
The fourth area AISG prioritizes is developing AI talent. AISG has established a nine-month apprenticeship program that trains students in AI engineering and provides on-the-job experience. Given the share of AI jobs in the United States has grown from 0.2% in 2012 to 0.8% of total jobs posted in 2019, U.S. policymakers should also support AI skill development. But different states have different industries and mixes of skills, which means investing in workforce development programs should be done at the state level to ensure these programs focus on each state’s current and future needs. For example, Massachusetts has established a Commission on Digital Innovation and Lifelong Learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to examine how the state can expand affordable, high-quality, employer-aligned education training opportunities to all.
Not all states can match what Singapore has done, nor should they. But U.S. policymakers should push states to support the research, development, deployment and adoption of AI if they want to exploit all the opportunities this technology presents for economic and social development at regional, state and national levels. Policymakers at every level should therefore be involved in reaping this value, especially state leaders who, like those in Singapore, can leverage their jurisdiction’s smaller size and respective strengths to nimbly bring together diverse stakeholders and deploy impactful AI solutions.
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