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Are you feeling Assured?

This week: Cash payouts from the Assurance Package are going into bank accounts... but everything is going to get more expensive with the GST increase next year.

This rainy weather has been making me sooooo sleepy. But, for the first time this year, I actually don't have a sleep debt, so maybe this was just a long time coming.

In and out

Have you received your cash payout from the government yet? It was announced last month as part of the Assurance Package. Depending on your eligibility/conditions, you should have received, or will receive, around $200–$800.

It was nice to get an alert from my bank about a deposit having been made, but around the same time I received an email from my internet service provider informing me that my internet bill is going to go up due to the impending GST increase to 9%. 😵 That email was followed by other announcements or reminders from other places that their rates are being revised upwards too, either because of the GST increase or because of inflation/costs having gone up more generally. Stuck in the rain carrying a bunch of things, I had to get a Grab, and almost fainted at the surge pricing. The Assurance Package money was welcome, but I sadly doubt it'll last very long. I don't think I'm the only person feeling a little anxious about how 2024 is going to turn out economically.

Separately (but kind of related), I was asked recently why restaurants in Singapore charge that 10% service charge, and whether that service charge really goes to the employees. As far as I could find out, there's no guarantee the 10% really goes to the staff who are providing the service, and it probably doesn't in a lot of cases. So why call it a service charge, then? Has there been any pressure or campaign to make it mandatory that the money goes to the staff? I don't have answers to the first question, and suspect that the answer to the second is "not really". I found this letter to TODAY, written back in 2014, but it doesn't seem like there has been any movement. It seems like one of those things that we've just got used to and forget about most of the time, but it's true that the people doing the work should be getting the service charge!

Singapore bets on AI

The PAP government has revised the national game plan... and this time they're going in on Artificial Intelligence (AI). The government is going to invest in training and education, and plans to triple the number of AI practitioners—like machine-learning scientists and engineers—to a 15,000-strong force.

“We will not be able to compete with the major powers in assembling raw computing power, but we will do everything we can to ensure that we have the computing power to meet our growing research and industry demands, and to fully back our strategic AI agenda," said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.

Jenson Huang, the CEO of Nvidia, which makes AI chips, is going to meet with PM Lee Hsien Loong and the Economic Development Board to talk about potential investments. There aren't further details yet, but Huang obviously loved what Wong had to say about the "strategic AI agenda".

This is all stuff that involves lots of money. But this Straits Times feature also reminds us that such technology has to be considered alongside issues like energy consumption and data security. Some interesting data (emphasis mine):

"Four data centre operators were granted approval in July to build 80 megawatts (MW) of new capacity that meet higher standards for efficiency and decarbonisation.

This additional data centre capacity, if utilised 24 hours every day for a month, could potentially consume as much energy as around 155,500 four-room flats in the same period of time, based on the Energy Market Authority’s 2022 figures for monthly household energy consumption in Singapore.

Data centres were responsible for about 7 per cent of the Republic’s total electricity consumption in 2020, according to the Ministry of Trade and Industry. To meet carbon emissions targets, the grid must shift away from natural gas towards renewable energy sources such as solar."

Got some more

❓ Does anyone know what's going on with the CPIB probe into Iswaran? Surely there should be an update.

📑 Singapore and China signed a bunch of MOUs and agreements this past week at the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation. They range across a bunch of areas, from developing liveable cities to digital policy. Among the agreements was a mutual 30-day visa exemption for travellers. They're still working the kinks out but plan to implement this scheme in early 2024.

Most of you already know that I'm the managing editor of the quarterly Asia-focused literary magazine Mekong Review. It's a tiny operation, but we're proud of the incisive writing on Asian politics, history, art, literature (and more!) that we deliver to our readers. Subscriptions are our main source of revenue to keep going, so we've got a subscription drive on at the moment. Use the promo code ENDOFYEAR2023 to get 20% off a year's subscription—this offer ends on 31 December so don't forget!

On the radar

🎤 I'm moderating a panel discussion with Shibani Mahtani and Timothy McLaughlin this afternoon at Book Bar, 3pm–4pm. We'll be talking about their new book, Among the Braves: Hope, Struggle, and Exile in the Battle for Hong Kong and the Future of Global Democracy.

Plushies ready for the Scottish winter!

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