Singapore to use intelligent 'chatbots' to deliver public service

In partnership with Microsoft, the Infocomm Development Authority will use conversational computing to deliver selected public services under a new initiative called “Conversations As a Platform”.

Singapore has announced a new partnership with Microsoft to create a digital government services platform that will shift towards conversational computing.

Announcing the initiative at the World Cities Summit in the city-state on 12 July, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-In-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, said the new medium, conceptually referred to as “Conversations as a Platform” will use chatbots — intelligent software programmes that simulate human behaviour.

“I believe there are more intuitive ways for government services to be delivered to our citizens,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

The chatbots, which combine human language, artificial intelligence and machine learning, are envisioned to make public and business transactions simpler, more efficient, and more consistent.

“Everybody expects responsive and personalised interactions in real time. The recent quantum improvement of natural language processing means that ‘conversations’ will be the new medium,” he said.

With chatbots, people will have a way to access a service or accomplish a task with just one straightforward conversation, whether spoken or by text, from their phones, computers and other smart devices and without having to navigate several web pages or click on many icons.

The recent quantum improvement of natural language processing means that ‘conversations’ will be the new medium.

Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-In-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, Singapore 

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, noted that “as everything around us becomes more digitised, Conversations as a Platform is a new shift that applies the understanding of human language to computers and computing, which can transform every industry”.

The shift to conversational computing will be implemented in three phases, said IDA.

Phase One will see chatbots answering simple factual questions, drawing answers from the government’s vast database.

Phase Two will see an increased capability of the chatbots to help people complete simple tasks and transactions within the government website.

Finally, Phase Three will see chatbots being able to respond to personalised queries from users, further enhancing user engagement by providing an interactive conversational experience.

A Microsoft Centre of Excellence for Leadership in Digital Transformation for Government will be established to spearhead the design and development of conversational computing for Singapore’s government website, as well as private business websites.

The Centre will also incubate other “proof-of-concepts,” or ideas for innovations envisioned to transform the way government and businesses deliver services to people to be more intuitive and anticipatory.

“As part of a Digital Government, IDA continues to explore partnership opportunities with the industry to co-create digital solutions for citizens and businesses. We have done so with virtual assistant ‘Ask Jamie,’ which has been successfully rolled out to some government agencies including IDA,” said IDA managing director, Jacqueline Poh.

“We are happy to work with more partners, including Microsoft, to test out POCs which may enhance the way citizens and businesses interact online with the Government,” she said.

The actual timeline for the implementation and roll out of the intelligent chatbots in Singapore’s government websites has not been announced.

Singapore in 2014 unveiled a vision to become the world’s first Smart Nation, where technology is used to improve the lives of citizens, create economic opportunity and build a closer community.

The city-state hosted this year’s World Cities Summit, a bi-annual gathering of the world’s top urban planning, transport and real estate development policy makers, experts, practitioners and industry representatives to discuss innovation and opportunities in creating liveable and sustainable cities. The summit was held at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre, Marina Bay Sands, from 10 to 14 July 2016.

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