Singapore’s Civil Defence Force is trialling an automated AI call system to transcribe emergency calls in Singlish, a variety of English that combines Chinese and Malay.

The government “has developed an automatic speech transcribing system that can interpret and process the linguistically unique code-switching nature of Singapore English,” said Tan Chee Hau, Director of Planning and Prioritisation at the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) in an interview with GovInsider. This will be tested to see if it can be used nationwide.

This move is part of the government’s plan to build digital services that are “usable, accessible and inclusive,” Tan said.

In a multi-racial society, this means taking language into consideration when designing digital services, said Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister-in-charge of GovTech and Senior Minister of State. “Why would you go online if you are not able to have an experience that is relevant to your life, in a language that you can understand and access?” he told GovInsider in a previous interview.

Singapore is also making sure the elderly are not being left behind by creating digital services that are “usable, accessible and inclusive.” SNDGO is doing that with a set of Digital Services Standards, detailing digital and design principles.

The office also engages senior citizens while services are still being designed. The office is developing an Emergency Personal Alert button for the elderly, Tan said. It was found that seniors want to alert family members and not just care services in an emergency.

Countries like New Zealand also have similar standards for digital services for accessibility. Since July 2019, government organisations must make sure websites are accessible and usable by everyone, including people with disabilities. Over in Georgia, its emergency services have been redesigned to make it more accessible for the deaf with Skype video chats and sign language interpreters.

The government also wants to tap on Artificial Intelligence to build its services, Tan said. AI is already being used on government job portals to match job-seekers to jobs, and to detect subsidy fraud. An inter-agency AI taskforce was announced in parliament this year, by Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation initiatives, Vivian Balakrishnan, to study how the government can partner industries to build on AI capabilities.

The Smart Nation office is working with the Land Transport Authority to predict how changing bus routes will impact commuters using available data. The analytical tool, called ReRoute, allows for quicker and better bus planning “without physical disruptions to public transport,” Tan says.

As we say in Singlish: “Wah, so shiok!”