Mind the bots . . .
According to Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, the number of foreign workers dropped from 1,427,400 to 1,200,400 from 2019 to 2021, creating a labour crunch for the city-state, which relies heavily on its foreign workforce. Singapore is now accelerating the development of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to fill many lower-paying jobs. It has introduced robots across various industries, such as construction, public service, hospitality, and manufacturing. For example, a robot called ‘Spot’ can ‘supervise’ progress at a construction site by scanning sections of mud and gravel. Singapore’s National Library, meanwhile, hosts a robot that can scan 100,000 book labels – 30 per cent of the entire library archive – in one day. And more than 30 subway stations in Singapore now have robot baristas serving coffee to commuters.
The power of AI . . .
There are 605 robots for every 10,000 employees in Singapore's manufacturing industry, a ratio second only to South Korea. Singapore’s commitment to AI does not stop at building robots. In 2021, it dedicated C$167 million to AI research. The changes AI is making include helping contain COVID outbreaks, improving food safety, and boosting water conservation. For instance, AI-powered video analytics have enabled the automatic screening of individuals’ body temperatures during the pandemic, and ‘smart’ water meters let residents track and monitor important data about water consumption and potential leaks. Concurrent with these advances, the need to reskill workers to accommodate the age of AI is now a more significant concern in Singapore.
AI in the Asia Pacific and beyond . . .
According to the latest data provided by the International Data Corporation, spending on AI systems in the Asia Pacific will increase from C$22 billion in 2022 to C$41 billion in 2025. For Canada, Singapore’s technology and innovation are key sectors of opportunity. In 2017, Canada launched its Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, driven by a C$125-million fund. Despite this sizable funding injection, Canada may be falling behind other countries in terms of having long-term strategic goals, policy development, and research and investment to support AI. To remain competitive, Canada will need to continuously review its AI strategy and collaborate with countries experiencing speedier growth in the sector.