All immigration checkpoints to have fingerprint and face scans by 2025 as part of Singapore's AI push

PHOTO: Screengrab from The Straits Times

Security clearance at all immigration checkpoints in Singapore will be fully automated with fingerprint, facial and iris scan by 2025, as part of the nation's plan to harness artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to deliver social and economic benefits.

Border security is one of five key national AI projects announced on Wednesday (Nov 13). The projects are part of Singapore's new national AI strategy unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on the same day.

Speaking at the Singapore FinTech Festival and Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology conference, Mr Heng said: "Countries will need to keep pace with technology, and harness it to tackle common challenges and national priorities."

Apart from border security, the other AI four projects announced are in logistics, healthcare, education and estate management, said the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office.

The five projects were chosen as they can deliver quick results, and have a high social and economic impact.

Using AI at the borders, for instance, will mean a faster and more seamless experience for travellers to clear immigration checks. The process will also reduce human error and allow immigration officers working at manned counters to focus on higher-value work, such as focusing on visitors who may require closer scrutiny.

The fully automated system at Changi Airport Terminal 4, for example, which uses a facial recognition system that captures a passenger's photo at different stations, was reported to achieve manpower and efficiency savings of up to 20 per cent.

For the healthcare project, an AI system, dubbed Selena+ will be deployed across Singapore by 2022 to help detect eye conditions, including diabetic eye disease, more quickly and accurately.

Speaking about the healthcare project, Mr Heng said that there is "great potential for AI to be applied to the prediction, detection and management of chronic diseases" as many senior citizens may be unaware of their medical conditions.

"AI can be used to analyse clinical and genomic data, medical images, and health behaviours to better assess the risk profile of individual patients - for better prevention and case management," he said.

For estate management, AI can help to predict problems so that housing estate maintenance can be better optimised, such as using AI to analyse data to help predict the next lift breakdown in a building.

As for education, AI can be tapped to automate marking procedures for certain English language assignments, so that teachers can be freed up to focus on other tasks.

A new National AI Office has also been created under the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office to set priorities and help to build a pipeline of AI talent. The new office, comprising mainly redeployed public officers, will also facilitate the commercialisation of AI research and act as a link between the private and public sectors.

The announcements signal the importance the nation is putting on AI, which has disrupted and transformed lives across many sectors.

Singapore has committed over $500 million to digital technologies, including AI under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 plan. To boost AI talent here, Singapore also aims to train 25,000 professionals in basic AI coding and implementation by 2025.

In January, Singapore released a framework, believed to be Asia's first, on how AI can be ethically and responsibly used.

Mr Andreas Ebert, Microsoft's worldwide national technology officer, said: "Already a global thought leader on AI ethics and governance, the publication of the National AI Strategy is evidence that Singapore is taking a holistic and inclusive approach on how the nation can be a fast adopter of best-in-class technology that is empowered by a focus on building national capabilities."

Here are the details on the five AI projects announced on Wednesday:

Healthcare

AI will be used to earlier identify chronic disease patients with higher risks of developing complications so that preventive measures can be taken.

For example, by 2022, the nation plans to deploy AI software system Selena+, which scans and analyses retinal photographs for signs of diabetic eye diseases. The deep-learning system is said to be able to do so in a fraction of the time it currently takes humans and is often more accurate too.

Enrolled nurse Abel Kwan (far left) using a specialised camera, known as a Fundus, at a mock screening session with the Selena+ AI. The system will address the need for increased manpower to tackle diabetes and related eye diseases. PHOTO: The Straits Times

Security

By 2025, all travellers to Singapore - both Singaporeans and foreign visitors - will be able to access a fully automated immigration clearance system involving facial and iris scans. This makes the immigration procedure faster and more seamless for travellers, and also frees up time for the immigration officers to focus their time on other, more high-value tasks.

Smart estates

By 2022, AI-powered chatbots will be launched for residents to report issues with municipal services. Data will also be collected and analysed by 2025 to optimise estate maintenance cycles as well as pre-empt problems. For example, data can be tapped to predict the next lift breakdown.

By 2030, data-driven insights will be used to improve the planning of estates, so that facilities can be better built and better located to serve the needs of residents.

Education

By 2022, automated marking systems will be launched to mark primary and secondary English language assignments to free up time for teachers to focus on other tasks. Similar automated marking systems will be deployed for more subjects by 2030.

Students will also be able to access AI-enabled adaptive learning systems by 2025, which are designed to cater to individual students based on their own learning abilities.

An exploratory study held in May at four secondary schools using such a system showed that students improved in their mastery of assigned topics, as they felt they had more control over their own pace of learning.

Logistics

A common data platform will be developed for the intelligent routing and scheduling of trucks by 2022 so as to optimise delivery processes. AI applications will also facilitate freight planning at ports by 2025, which will then be expanded to include air and land cargo operations by 2030.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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