Breaking Barriers: Advancing AI in Southeast Asia with a Large Language Model

A new research initiative is being launched to develop a large language model (LLM) that better represents the demographics of Southeast Asia. The initiative, called the National Multimodal LLM Programme, is led by Singapore with the aim of creating an artificial intelligence (AI) large language model that supports the diverse mix of culture and language in the region.

Three government agencies — Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), AI Singapore (AISG), and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) — have come together to launch the research program, with SG$70 million ($52.48 million) in funding from the National Research Foundation. The goal is to develop sovereign capabilities in LLMs as the region’s local and regional cultures, values, and norms differ from those of Western countries.

The importance of developing multimodal and localized LLMs for Southeast Asia, including Singapore, is emphasized, particularly in understanding the context and values related to the region’s diverse cultures and languages. The initiative will utilize high-performance computing resources and look to develop the country’s research and engineering capabilities in multimodal LLMs.

The significance of the initiative lies in Singapore’s commitment to become a global AI hub by investing in talent and large language AI models for regional languages, fostering industry collaboration across borders, and driving the next wave of AI innovation in Southeast Asia. The initiative will build on efforts from AISG’s open-source LLM, SEA-LION, which aims to establish LLMs that better represent “non-WEIRD” populations.

Establishing localized LLMs is part of Singapore’s AI strategy, which aims to drive its ambition to be a global development hub for AI solutions by 2030. With the potential to significantly change human lives and impact societies, the responsible development and adoption of AI should be guided more deliberately.