AI ca­pa­bil­i­ties can shape in­dus­try

The New Paper - - VIEWS - KA­T­RINA LE­UNG

Sin­ga­pore has unique chance to be­come global leader in us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ro­bot­ics in tourism and hospi­tal­ity

Few coun­tries have achieved as much suc­cess, and on so many dif­fer­ent fronts, as Sin­ga­pore in the past few decades.

From eco­nomic growth and ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, home own­er­ship and health­care, the list of achieve­ments is a long one.

All this can be at­trib­uted to one key as­pect: There is al­ways a long-term plan be­hind any ini­tia­tive, reg­u­la­tion or pol­icy frame­work. This ap­proach has es­pe­cially been a big driver of growth for the tourism and hospi­tal­ity sec­tor.

Ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy, es­pe­cially in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) and ro­bot­ics, are chang­ing the way the in­dus­try op­er­ates. This presents a unique op­por­tu­nity for Sin­ga­pore to es­tab­lish it­self as a global leader on this front.

The hospi­tal­ity sec­tor has tra­di­tion­ally been a man­pow­er­in­ten­sive in­dus­try.

Ev­ery as­pect of run­ning a hospi­tal­ity or­gan­i­sa­tion has needed a hu­man touch — from check­ing in a guest at a ho­tel and de­liv­er­ing a room-ser­vice or­der, to clean­ing the room and check­ing out the guest, hu­man in­ter­ac­tion is what peo­ple have come to ex­pect at ev­ery level.

The On­line Travel Reser­va­tion and Man­age­ment Sys­tem says that labour costs ac­count for more than half of the hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try’s op­er­a­tional costs.

How­ever, the sec­tor’s fast­paced ex­pan­sion, cou­pled with Sin­ga­pore’s rel­a­tively small pop­u­la­tion, has made it dif­fi­cult for com­pa­nies to meet their man­power re­quire­ments. This is where ad­vance­ments in ro­bot­ics can plug the gap.

Ser­vice ro­bots are al­ready mak­ing their way into the in­dus­try. The Gov­ern­ment Tech­nol­ogy Agency re­ports that Park Av­enue Rochester Ho­tel has de­ployed two ser­vice ro­bots called Techi, which clean up af­ter ho­tel guests have departed; they also de­liver trol­leys of du­vets, pil­low cases and tow­els to more than 300 rooms.

This pair of ro­bots can do the work of three full-time em­ploy­ees, help­ing to plug the man­power short­age.

The use of ro­bots is likely to move from ser­vice to in­ter­ac­tion as well. Sin­ga­pore’s homegrown hu­manoid ro­bot re­cep­tion­ist, Na­dine, made her de­but at the ArtS­cience Mu­seum’s ex­hi­bi­tion ear­lier this year. De­vel­oped by the Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity, it can re­call faces and con­ver­sa­tions.

The Sin­ga­pore Tourism Board (STB) re­cently con­cluded a crowd-sourc­ing ini­tia­tive for in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions to ad­dress key is­sues and op­por­tu­ni­ties in the sec­tor.

It has asked com­pa­nies to sub­mit their pro­pos­als for so­lu­tions rooted in big data and an­a­lyt­ics, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, cog­ni­tive com­put­ing, ro­bot­ics, ma­te­rial sciences or other rel­e­vant tech­nolo­gies. Se­lected pro­pos­als will be funded by STB for up to 70 per cent of the qual­i­fy­ing costs, so they can de­liver fea­si­ble pro­to­types for trial and even­tual im­ple­men­ta­tion if the trial is deemed suc­cess­ful.

The Na­tional Re­search Foun­da­tion (NRF) has said it will in­vest up to $150 mil­lion in a new na­tional pro­gramme aimed at boost­ing Sin­ga­pore’s AI ca­pa­bil­i­ties over the next five years.

Un­der AI.SG, Sin­ga­pore­based re­search in­sti­tutes will part­ner AI start-ups and com­pa­nies de­vel­op­ing AI prod­ucts to grow knowl­edge in the space, cre­ate tools and de­velop tal­ent to power the coun­try’s AI ef­forts.

The writer is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Messe Ber­lin (Sin­ga­pore). This ar­ti­cle was pub­lished in The Busi­ness Times on Nov 9.

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