Smart City Expo World Congress 2019, Barcelona
Speech by Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at The Smart City Expo World Congress, Barcelona
19 Nov 2019
Good Morning, I come from Singapore, a tiny island city-state. I am very glad to be back here in Barcelona. I congratulate Barcelona for the ninth edition of the Smart City Expo World Congress. Singapore has participated actively, we have taken ideas from here and implemented it back home, and it has made a profound difference.
NATIONAL AI STRATEGY
Today, I want to share with you our approach to Artificial Intelligence (AI), and in particular, the strategy for a small city-state.
We believe that AI is a transformative technology. The fact that computers and systems can now see, hear, understand, and speak, is transformational. It will transform our economy and societies, and disrupt our politics. It will alter the nature of jobs, and the skills our people will need.
Consequently, we have decided that AI will define the next phase of our Smart Nation journey.
NEED FOR FOCUS
Given Singapore’s small size, we will never have the oceans of data that a country like China will have. Nor do we have the unique ecosystem of Silicon Valley – with that unique combination of academia, venture capital and industry. The question is – is there a role and opportunity for small city-states in this transformation? We believe there is. We believe it means we need to focus, and play to our strengths.
BUILDING ON SINGAPORE’S STRENGTHS
What is the strength of Singapore in a digital world, in particular a world which is transformed by AI?
Singapore is both a city and a country. We have a single layer of Government that allows us to be efficient. We are led by a Prime Minister who is a mathematician and a coder, and almost half the Cabinet consists of engineers. What this means is that we understand science, technology, and engineering, and we are able to make decisions quickly, pivot instantly, and seek opportunities that new technologies will provide.
We also have very strong digital foundations. Most Singaporeans are digitally literate. We have excellent, first-world digital infrastructure, with fibre connection in every single home and office. Our mobile penetration rate is 150%, and smart phones are held by 80 to 90% of our people.
These factors put us in an excellent position to be a living laboratory for digital technologies and AI of the future.
FOCUS ON DEPLOYMENT
We have decided to focus our AI development on deployment of AI, and in particular, to focus on sectors where Singapore already has a historical competitive advantage. Deploying AI in these sectors is a ‘no regrets’ move. It will enhance our competitiveness, generate economic returns, new jobs, and give us an opportunity to upgrade the skills and capabilities of our people.
The five sectors we have identified are:
- Intelligent Transport and Logistics;
- Smart Cities and Municipal Services;
- Preventive and Customised Healthcare;
- Optimised Education; and
- Enhanced Border Security.
HUMAN-CENTRIC APPROACH TO AI
Having identified these five areas that we are going to focus AI development on, I also want to emphasise five attributes of AI governance.
- Ethical use of AI – First, we will insist that all AI deployment in Singapore conform to the highest ethical standards. Earlier this year, Singapore published a Model AI Governance Framework – the first such framework in Asia.
- Safety and Security – Without assurances of data security, no one will trust the accumulation of data on a massive scale, and the ability to integrate and use the data.
- Respect for Privacy – If you are going to entrust personal data, you need to be assured that privacy will be respected, otherwise there will not be sufficient confidence to share, and yet in AI, it’s the ability to share and mash data is what gives you the unique and actionable insights.
- Human-explainable AI – We cannot approach AI as a black box. The solutions and answers proposed have to be comprehensible and explainable in human terms. Without that ability to explain how you arrive at the solution in terms which human beings can understand and accept, you will get a pushback.
- Ensuring outcomes of AI deployment to be socially and politically acceptable – Solutions proposed have to be acceptable to people. Human beings have a very strong innate sense of fairness, what is right, what is wrong, what is good, what is bad, and we believe it is important to have this governance framework in place.
In a sense, having strong governance and insisting on these attributes is not a roadblock to the development of AI. It is only through the invention of brakes that our cars today can go much faster. In the same way, we believe that having an AI governance structure that emphasises the ethical use of data, respect for privacy, data security, human explainable outcomes, and ensuring the outcomes are centred on human welfare, will provide a competitive advantage for the future.
The third point I want to make is that small city-states cannot do this alone. This is why this conference is so useful. It allows us to network, exchange ideas, our mistakes and failures, so we do not repeat them elsewhere.
Creating platforms where we can learn from one another, in which Governments, private sector and academia can come together to create a Triple Helix partnership is the way for the future.
There is still a lot more that we can, and must do. The good thing is that we have an open economy, a dense network of advanced research institutions and multinational corporations, and confident people.
I have given you an idea of how Singapore is approaching this transformative technology. AI will change the world, and cities that master AI will get ahead. If you do not, you are at risk of being left behind. Because we are small, we will focus on relevant areas where we already have a competitive advantage, and approach it with good governance, to instil confidence in the system and outcomes.
Thank you all very much and I wish you all the very best in your respective journeys.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
Minister-in-Charge Of The Smart Nation Initiative