Interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is booming, fueled by the growth in affordable data storage and computing. The AI phenomenon is creating a new wave of technologies destined to disrupt societies and multi-billion-dollar industries. It is little wonder that IDC is predicting a 50.1% compound annual growth rate increase for global spending on AI, reaching $57.6 billion by 2021.
However, the debate about machines performing a greater number of tasks once requiring human intelligence is both controversial and divisive.
Google recently faced an ethical backlash over the sophistication of its AI tools. Its new digital assistant convincingly mimicked a human voice to make an appointment over the phone, causing much debate over the crossing of ethical boundaries. Similarly, Elon Musk and others have also called for the ban of AI weaponry development, fearing this may signal a revolution in robotic warfare.
While it is prudent to evaluate the risks associated with AI, it is important to understand that responsible machine learning applied in the right way can be a force for good.
Here in Singapore, views on AI are less focused on advanced weaponry and ethics but they are still divisive. On one hand, there is anxiousness about the impact of AI and how it could replace the need for humans altogether. On the other hand, there is a strong desire to understand the benefits AI can offer.
AI’s role in public safety
Big data and machine learning lie at the heart of Singapore. Known as Southeast Asia’s data hub, Singapore has led the drive for smart nation development and growth in the region. The government’s push to develop the country as a true smart nation is evident as both private and public sector organizations embrace the use of data mining and analytics to improve processes across a wide variety of functions.
One such example is how AI can be used in public safety. The vast amounts of data collected from different sources – including cameras, sensors, personnel and the public – can help our nation’s public safety agencies to overcome complex threats while relieving pressure on budgets and physical resources.
Recently, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) launched the Red Rhino Robot. The robot is equipped with compressed foam and has autonomous capabilities to help protect first responders while they set up firefighting equipment. The SCDF is also developing an indoor tracking system including wearable sensors to monitor the vital signs of firefighters to keep them safe.