Market insights

Singapore’s AI edge in the global talent race

18 December 2017

Singapore is surging ahead of the pack in the global race for talent, with its embrace of artificial intelligence (AI) generating a productivity revolution.

Under the guidance of Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative, AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) are systematically changing how Singaporeans live, learn and do business. The growing integration of AI is benefiting not only local businesses, but also the growing number of multinational corporations (MNCs) making Singapore their Asian headquarters.

AI applications for HR

In Singapore, robots are already doing household chores, performing acupoint therapy and acting as receptionists, demonstrating their potential to undertake a range of repetitive tasks. As a result, the skill sets necessary for working alongside AI are rapidly evolving.

Human resources tech strategist Meghan M. Biro suggests that AI could have a range of applications for HR, including personalising training programmes, predicting turnover rates and enhancing employee engagement, recruitment and workflow automation.

Sharing the same sentiment, Glenn Dittrich, vice president of Watson Talent at IBM, said the process of upskilling and training employees could greatly benefit from AI, which he described as augmenting, and not replacing, human staff.

“For example, if you think about training doctors, it’s impossible to keep up with all the latest research and treatments for illnesses,” he said. “However, by taking all the symptoms and data and asking a question to AI, you can come up with a better description of the illness.”

Dittrich pointed out that it’s not physically possible for doctors to reach the same level, but they can use AI for improved diagnoses. “It’s still up to the doctor to make sure the inputs are correct and make the final decision.”

Strengthen talent pool in Singapore

In Singapore, Dittrich said IBM’s Watson Centre was working with private healthcare provider Parkway Pantai to help employees monitor patients’ vital signs, with a goal of reducing documentation by up to 25 percent.

“With the amount of medical knowledge that we’re collecting from each patient, we’re able to develop safer and faster care, augmenting the capability of staff using that data,” he said. Staff are able to use the data better as part of their work, allowing for more focused and specialised care.

IBM is also looking at enhancing job functions through the use of big data, including areas such as recruitment.

“Watson can go in and look at all the openings in a company and where they don’t have enough candidates, and then go out and source candidates automatically using their social networks and candidate databases,” Dittrich said.

“It’s about using AI to do the behind-the-scenes work so recruiters can focus on what they do best, which is talking to and selling a candidate on a role.”

For Singapore companies that are looking for foreign talent, the ability to source workers from around the world automatically using AI could be an invaluable tool.

In training the workers of the future, Singapore’s university sector has quickly grasped AI’s benefits, with the National University of Singapore (NUS) having offered Watson-based cognitive computing education since 2014.

According to NUS, the programme provides students with the opportunity to “develop prototype applications and a business plan for their Watson industry of choice, such as banking, retail or telecommunications”.

AI’s pros and cons

Singapore has harnessed AI and the IoT across a range of industries, including using real-time transport data to aid bus commuters and the network, while companies such as Grab have seized upon its benefits to disrupt the established industry.

Yet AI also has its share of critics, including those who accuse it of eliminating jobs.

"In a decade or two you'll find that robots and artificial intelligence can do almost every job that human beings do. We are headed into a jobless future,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a leading technology researcher.

“With anything new there is always a sense of fear,” Dittrich said. “For example, everyone worried about what GrabTaxi was going to do to the Singapore taxi industry. Everyone could have given you 20 reasons why not, but it all comes down to the experience – if there’s a great experience, there are no cons.”

AI’s role in training and upskilling workers for the jobs of the future continues to pick up speed in innovation-focused Singapore. For both local and MNCs alike, the city-state is fast earning a crucial advantage in the global war for talent.