Building an AI Aware Nation Requires More Than Just Data Scientists and AI Engineers

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a buzzword for the last 5–6 years. However, it was at the famous Dartmouth College conference in 1956 that coined the phrase Artificial Intelligence. It is only recently that AI has reached a level of usefulness that has allowed it to gain its wide industry adoption.

Many people are using AI-enabled systems today, whether they know it or not. When you use Google search or watch a movie on Netflix or purchase an item on Amazon, some form of AI-enabled algorithm is at play (we will generally refer to AI to encompass the practices of data science and machine learning (ML) algorithms).

Universities and private learning institutions are rushing out data science, machine learning, and AI courses, encouraged by various government initiatives to embrace AI. These courses train students to learn the different state-of-the-art AI/ML algorithms and graduate them as AI Engineers and Data Scientists at first degree, Masters or PhD levels.

Such programmes are suitable for companies that require these engineers and scientists to build sophisticated algorithms. However, the supply of these algorithms needs to be matched by the consumption of these algorithms.

The person-in-the-street (whom we call “Everyone”) needs to be data-savvy and AI-aware. They need to become intelligent users of such systems, whether to use it as a tool or to integrate it into their personal and professional lives.

About AI Singapore

AI Singapore was announced back in June 2017 with a budget of S$150M to focus on:

● AI Research to drive state-of-the-art AI research in Singapore

● AI Technology to use AI to solve national problems faced by Singapore

● AI Innovation to accelerate the adoption of AI by organisations in Singapore

Fast forward to today, various reports and indices put Singapore in the top 10 for AI:

● Singapore tops AI readiness index — Government & civil service news (

● Singapore tops list of 105 cities most ready for AI disruption, new index shows, Singapore News & Top Stories — The Straits Times

● The AI Index Report — Artificial Intelligence Index (

In terms of research, while Singapore is a small country with a correspondingly small population, our AI researchers are punching above their weight, with Singapore ranked #1 for the Field Weight Research Index (FWCI)

Chart reproduced from The AI Index Report by Stanford University Human-Centred AI team.

We launched the AI in Health Grand Challenge in June 2018:

“How can AI help primary care teams stop or slow disease progression and complication development in 3 “Highs” (or 3H) — Hyperglycaemia (diabetes), Hyperlipidaemia (high cholesterol), and Hypertension (high blood pressure) patients by 20% in 5 years.”

The challenge is midway through its 5-year programme.

More than 500 organisations have contacted AI Singapore to help them with their business problems where AI could be a potential solution. In the 100-Experiments (100E) programme, we have approved 66 projects worth up to S$500K each. Twenty-nine of these projects have been deployed into production today.

Distribution of 100E Projects by Industry Sector

Companies we have worked with include start-ups, SMEs, MNCs and government agencies. The problem statements range from computer vision (CV) to natural language processing (NLP) to tabular-data related ones like fraud detection.

MNCs are tapping on AI Singapore’s 100E programme

Learn more about the IBM case study and Sompo case study.

More importantly, AI Singapore has grown the three planned programmes targeting researchers and companies to encompass a broader range of citizens and residents of Singapore that AI would impact.

Besides PhDs in AI, we need Everyone to be aware of AI for the various programmes in AI Singapore to succeed. Everyone refers to business owners, working professionals, students, kids, and even retirees.

Those not developing AI solutions or products are consuming AI applications and hence need to be data-savvy and AI-aware to make intelligent and responsible decisions when interacting with such systems.

AI Apprenticeship Programme (AIAP)®

One of the first challenges we had when we started the 100E programme, was finding sufficient AI Engineers to work on these projects. The shortage of AI talent worldwide is well-documented. However, it is particularly acute in Singapore, where we need to compete with Google, Facebook, Shopee, Lazada and Grab for the same talent, but with a university remuneration package.

We had a hunch that there are citizens interested and have been learning Python and AI/ML on their own for at least one or two years, and it would be easy to train and deep-skill them with their foundations already in place. We only need to deep skill and round off their skills, and then they can start to work on AI projects.

AIAPs work on real-world AI projects from 100E to internal AI Singapore Makerspace projects

We launched the AI Apprenticeship Programme (AIAP)® in 2018, and to date, with eight batches, we have trained more than 170 citizens to build production-ready AI systems. We grew our team of four AI Engineers to more than 60 today, with more than 90% of them coming through this programme. The rest of the AIAP graduates are working in organisations such as GovTech, DSTA, GIC, SGX, Grab, DBS Bank, Shopee, Facebook, etc.

8 AIAP Cohort and their backgrounds. IDC AI Award

Interestingly and eye-opening for many hiring managers is that our AI Apprentices come from backgrounds as diverse as accountancy, law, business, social sciences, science and engineering. They did not expect non-computer science students to be able to do AI.

The reason is simple. Working on data does not equate to building algorithms that computer science graduates learn. The excitement one gets from solving a business or engineering problem, a love of data, and a passion for learning can allow anyone to become a good AI/ML engineer.

The strategy worked so well the AI Apprenticeship Programme (AIAP)® even won IDC’s Talent Accelerator Award in 2019!

This strategy of identifying potential AI hires is discussed further in my earlier article — How Did AI Singapore Build a “200” Strong All-Singaporean AI Engineering Team With the Blue Ocean Strategy?

Blue Ocean Strategy to build an AI team

AI for Everyone (AI4E)®

When speaking to companies to convince them to adopt AI solutions to improve their competitiveness, we found that many managers and professionals were fearful of AI and had many misunderstandings about AI. It did not help that the media often hype about AI world domination and the millions of potential jobs losses caused by AI.

To counter the myth and FUD, we created and launched a 3-hour workshop called AI for Everyone (AI4E)® in August 2018, where we walk participants through what AI is face-to-face, initially twice a month (a Friday afternoon and a Saturday morning). We have since converted the popular AI4E into an online class.

AI for Everyone (AI4E)®

Our original target was 10,000 citizens by July 2021. Today we are at 21,359 and counting, and the new stretched goal for the team is 100,000 citizens by 2025.

With the success of AI4E, we decided to offer more options for working professionals and students, such as the AI for Industry (AI4I)®and AI for Students (AI4S)®in partnership with DataCamp.

AI for Industry (AI4I)® — Foundations in AI Certification

We also wanted to get the younger generation excited about STEM. Parent-volunteers are trained and certified to deliver the AI for Kids (AI4K)® programme. This allows us to get the kids, parents and even grandparents trained on AI and become data-savvy and AI Aware.

AI for Kids (AI4K)® Briefing and Bootcamps
AI4K® Programme Structure

To further reinforce and make learning AI fun, we created an AI cartoon character competition to get children from primary school to imagine and draw an AI cartoon character that will become the main character of an AI storybook. The competition gets both the children and parents to start thinking about AI, not fear AI.

AI4K illustration competition to create an AI main character for an AI storybook

Getting Everyone to be AI Aware is what we call the Generational AI Capability Development initiative. We want to ensure that all strata of society — age, gender or economic status — get exposed to AI, made aware of the opportunities that AI brings, and become savvy users of AI. For those who eventually become AI developers, we also hope that they will be responsible and ethical.

Generational AI Capability Development


As AI Singapore progresses into its Phase 2 and Phase 3 work, we continue to innovate our programmes to cater to both organisations and individuals.

Singapore needs 8,000–10,000 AI Engineers over the next five years. AI Singapore cannot do this alone, and neither can the universities.

As such, we have operationalised our core programmes such as 100E, AIAP®, AI4E®, AI4I® into a comprehensive AI for Transformation (AI4T) programme. AI4T allows organisations to implement the exact same programmes we have done at a national scale to an organisational scale.

We developed the AI Readiness Index (AIRI) to help organisations identify where they are in their AI maturity journey and what intervention or AI Singapore programmes are suitable.

The AI Readiness Index (AIRI)
The AI Readiness Index (AIRI) — Interpretation

To operationalise the AI4T programme, we will train organisations and provide them with the AI training materials, administrative and operations handbooks to guide them.

AI For Transformation — AIAP-X Module

We have shared our programmes with governments, universities, associations and non-profit organisations in ASEAN, the EU and Middle-east and US. Many exciting discussions and collaborations are underway.

Let’s work together to make Everyone AI Aware and data-savvy.

AI for Everyone!

This article was originally published on Medium by UrbanAI.


  • Laurence Liew

    Passionate about growing the next generation of Singaporean AI talents, I spend my time figuring out the best ways to groom more Singaporeans for AI, getting our kids interested in STEM and accelerating SMEs’ adoption of AI through AI Singapore 100E programmes.