We ask government innovators what excites them about AI

By Nurfilzah Rohaidi

From fighting fake news to predicting epidemics, AI is a cause for both concern and celebration.

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

As artificial intelligence changes how governments work, Wong Ming Fai pointed out that it can be both a cause of celebration and concern.

“We need to talk about the data that’s being gathered and how that will be put in place of fallible human beings, how do you counteract that,” said Wong, CIO of Enterprise Singapore and Head of the GovTech Data Analytics practice, speaking at the SAS Analytics Insights Exchange. But despite the concerns, there is much that governments are gaining from harnessing AI, the panellists agreed.

Diagnosing diseases and tackling dengue

From an operational standpoint, AI is helping governments to optimise resources, and also anticipate when citizens will need key services before they even ask for them, Wong said. “Where do we fund our schools, where do we put our hospitals, where do we plan our public services so that those can be a little more effective.”

The other side of the coin, he said, is how to control the use of data and ensure that it is used right. The challenge is with “the amalgamation of data, and putting it all in the hands of people - and people are not perfect”.

From a public health standpoint, AI is being used to tackle dengue outbreaks in Singapore. Panellist Dr Ng Lee Ching, Director of the Environmental Health Institute at Singapore’s National Environmental Agency, shared how it could help to identify dengue-spreading mosquitoes earlier.

The environment agency is trialling “smart gravitraps” - traps that can identify mosquito species - in residential estates at the end of this year, which will reduce the amount of manpower needed for inspections. “Today, we have to catch the mosquito and look at the features under the microscope. If a mosquito flies by you, you can't tell the species. But that sensor that we have could tell me what insect it is,” Dr Ng said. “That’s really marvelous.”

The agency also uses machine learning algorithms to predict the rise and fall of dengue incidents across the city, allowing them to allocate resources more effectively, she added.

AI ‘doctors’

Another facet of healthcare that is benefiting from AI is boosting the reach and roles of healthcare workers. While “there’s a real paranoia at the moment” that AI will steal jobs from people, panellist Tamsin Greulich-Smith believes that “that's a crazy thought because AI is going to augment the human”.

“How do we maintain human care, which is what we all want when we're ill and feeling vulnerable, without bankrupting the government or individuals? AI plays roles to support that,” said Greulich-Smith, who is Chief of the Smart Health Leadership Centre, Singapore at NUS-ISS.

In the face of overburdened healthcare systems and shrinking pools of healthcare talent, she noted how AI can help doctors in diagnostics. “There’s a phenomenal opportunity whereby we can predict and prevent diseases, or diagnose and save people's lives,” she shared.

It is clear that these AI algorithms are great at processing and analysing great volumes of data, pointed out panellist Syed Ismail, Head of Information Management at SAS Singapore. Cyber security is a crucial area for all governments, and one where AI excels at - helping to identify cyber threats, for instance. “We’re looking at security in terms of fake news, where the human cannot possibly manage all the data,” he remarked. “That's when AI will have the highest yield - as a means to combat infiltration.”

From fighting fake news, to healthcare and outbreak prevention, it is clear that AI has an impact on countless areas across every facet of our lives.

The 'Our Connected Future: Analytics-driven Smart Nation' track at the SAS Analytics Insights Exchange summit on 10 July 2018 was co-presented by GovInsider and SAS Singapore.