Singapore heads Oliver Wyman rankings for AI preparedness

27 September 2019

Global management consultancy Oliver Wyman has declared Singapore as the most prepared city worldwide for the coming era of artificial intelligence.

“The rise AI has the potential to disrupt nearly all facets of everyday life. From autonomous vehicles, to robotic assembly lines, to home assistants like Alexa and Siri – an unending flow of new technology enabled by AI has become an undeniable fact. And as soon as we grow used to one piece of it in our lives, others pop up to compete with it, only to be displaced by something that completely transforms what we’re used to. And then the cycle begins again, with increasing velocity.”

This is the introduction to a new analysis of over 100 international cities conducted by global management consultancy Oliver Wyman, which has concluded Singapore as the most prepared worldwide for the widespread disruption set to be unleashed by advancing artificial intelligence technology. Despite this, not one single city was considered even close to being prepared when measured across the four key criteria of the study, with none ranking among the top 10 in more than two of the four categories.

Singapore, for example, which bested all-comers with an average score of 75.6 out of 100, led the globe in the ‘vision’ metric, scoring 98.4 in a measure of the “quality of a city’s plan which recognises the opportunities and risks emerging from technological change”, but with a score of just 59.0 faired relatively poorly in terms of the ‘development’ measure – placing the city-state well behind similar-sized regional neighbours such as Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Seoul.

Broadly, the development category considers the trajectory of a city in its preparedness to address AI and ability to execute its plans as an interplay between two other criteria; ‘assets’, which takes in multiple structural dimensions in areas such as workforce, companies, funding, infrastructure and research, and ‘activation’, which considers a number of governmental and demographic factors. Singapore scored well for activation, but was let down by its asset base.

Singapore readiness for artificial intelligence

 “Singapore stands out for its vision; it has a whole-of-government view on how AI is to be deployed across the society and has a high-level steering committee for this,” said Oliver Wyman’s Asia Pacific managing partner Jacob Hook, with City Readiness initiative co-lead Kaijia Gu quick to note; “Some cities, like Singapore, are better prepared than others, but all cities will need to make improvements to prepare for the impacts of next-generation technology.”

In a somewhat blunter statement, the introduction to the Oliver Wyman index states that city governments ‘need to get real.’ This was the researchers’ conclusion after reviewing around 250 city vision and planning documents, finding that while they commonly focus on smart city developments and opportunities, most ignore the risks, failing to address the major societal changes that will arise from the onset of AI, such as the potential for widespread unemployment.

“Most cities plan to use AI to become ‘smart cities’ or the next Silicon Valley, but few focus on the bigger, strategic social and economic opportunities and challenges, such as the need to retrain people who may be forced to look for new work as a result of the broad deployment of AI,” said Timocin Pervane, co-leader of the City Readiness initiative. In an attendant survey of 9,000 city-dwellers worldwide, more than half the respondents in Asia considered their jobs to be most at risk by AI.

Cities in Asia, however, which are collectively projected to account for half the world’s economy by just 2035, are according to Oliver Wyman displaying the greatest momentum in preparing for both the opportunities and the negative ramifications of AI. Indeed, fourteen of the top 20 cities which the firm considers to be making the greatest strides in terms of alignment for success can be found in the Asia region, with eight of those including Shenzhen and Beijing located in China.

Overall, London and New York placed just behind Singapore, the two cities topping the list ahead of Paris, Los Angeles and Beijing for those with populations of more than 10 million people, while the next best were San Francisco (first among cities with a population of between 3 and 5 million), Stockholm and Amsterdam (one and two in the ‘small city’ category of less than 3 million denizens), and Boston and Berlin (the latter behind Singapore in the 5 to 10 million bracket). Sydney rounded out the top ten.