Come next year, a person making inquiries on government websites over matters such as income tax or employment can expect faster and more specific answers, under a pilot project the Government is conducting in collaboration with IBM.

The project will make use of IBM’s supercomputer, known as Watson, to enable Singaporeans to access government information more easily and to offer more personalised service on government-related matters.

In announcing the partnership with the American tech company yesterday, the Government said Watson would be able to provide government agencies with insights into the public’s concerns and priorities, leading to improved government services and better citizen engagement.

This is the first time that any government is working with IBM on this computing system, which can process and analyse large amounts of data to come up with solutions to problems.

For a start, Singapore will look into using Watson to improve government services in the areas of income tax, employment and work pass and workplace health and safety. Those using Watson-enabled government websites can make use of their self-service applications and gain answers faster.

Ms Lim Soo Hoon, Permanent Secretary (Finance) (Performance) at the Ministry of Finance, said: “We hope the collaboration with IBM to tap its leading Watson technology will bring about a transformative change in how the Government can better interact with citizens and address their needs.”

A Finance Ministry spokesperson told TODAY that with Watson, “users can expect a virtual assistant tool that is able to answer their queries on selected topics, such as individual income tax”.

“Unlike the current websites, which simply provide answers to a list of commonly asked questions, Watson aims to be able to provide a more personalised service by prompting the user for more information, analysing these inputs and hence providing more precise responses. This will hopefully better meet the needs of users while enabling the Government to better manage the use of its limited manpower,” the spokesperson said.

The Government “will assess the capabilities of Watson through the pilot trial to determine if it meets our requirements, before implementing it on a wider scale”.

“The duration of the pilot, including time for implementation, will be up to two years,” the spokesperson said.

The tie-up with IBM is in line with Singapore’s efforts to become a Smart Nation, which was announced in June. The Infocomm Development Authority had said then that collecting and analysing data from everyday situations would be a key driver in realising the vision.

IBM also announced yesterday that it would offer by early next year the first Watson-based cognitive computing education in South-east Asia to selected students of the National University of Singapore’s Computing, Business and Business Analytics schools.

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