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Virtual buddy to help pre-enlistees adjust to NS

Virtual buddy to help pre-enlistees adjust to NS
The My NS Buddy chatbot, tentatively planned to undergo trials from November among recruits, will answer questions from national servicemen on matters like enlistment and deferment. Photo: Defence Science and Technology Agency

Virtual buddy to help pre-enlistees adjust to NS

SINGAPORE — Pre-enlistees unsure about what to expect in National Service (NS) may soon have a virtual ‘buddy’ to turn to for help. 

A ‘chatbot’, or mobile messaging app, is in the works to answer questions on NS matters, such as enlistment, deferment and the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).

The My NS Buddy chatbot was mooted and is being developed by engineers at the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA).

Giving a preview earlier this week, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said it will help to better prepare national servicemen, especially those starting basic military training (BMT). It is also hoped it will help servicemen “get more out of their NS experiences”, Dr Ng wrote on Facebook.

The DSTA told TODAY that the chatbot is planned to undergo trials from November to get feedback from recruits, with the aim of making it “more engaging and intuitive”.

The idea bloomed when a senior engineer of enterprise IT at the DSTA Robin Ang was checking IPPT slots via the NS Portal and wondered how such information could be obtained by simply sending a message, Dr Ng said.

Mr Ang said he thought it would be useful to have his NS questions answered instantly.  “As national servicemen, we are able to draw from our personal NS experiences and customise the chatbot to make it fun and intuitive for the user,” he added.  

On Dr Ng’s Facebook page, a preview showed the chatbot fielding questions like what to wear when reporting for enlistment.

Another question on what to expect from NS life yielded this reply: “You will know when the time comes lah!! So kan chiong (‘anxious’ in the Hokkien dialect) for what?”

“Joking la. Anyways, no words can describe NS life ... Think you should watch this classic!” the chatbot suggested, referring the user to the popular Every Singaporean Son video series on life as a BMT recruit.

Young men due to enlist next year told TODAY the chatbot would give them more reliable and impartial information on NS than what they read on online forums or hear from friends.

Junior college student Raiden Tan, 19, said the chatbot would allow him faster and “more accurate” information, since the defence authorities would be in the know and people’s NS experience might differ. 

Temasek Polytechnic communications and media management student Wilkin Ng, 20, said the chatbot could save him having to navigate websites and he could return to the replies he gets: “I can simply go to the chatbot and scroll through the history.” 

Mr Tan Yue Jun, 19, who reads applied food science and nutrition at Temasek Polytechnic, said the chatbot would complement what he hears from friends. “The chatbot may be more impartial,” he added. 

Parents backed the idea. Account manager Roy Tan, 50, said that as the information is from the authorities, pre-enlistees would “not go wrong” with it.

Sales manager Michael Tan, 45, said the developers can “gather the views of everyone and come up with a ... moderate answer that will give a clear view of what they can expect”.