SWITCH Beyond 2021
Speech by Minister Josephine Teo at SWITCH Beyond 2021
10 Nov 2021
Hello everyone. I am delighted to join you today at SWITCH Beyond 2021. Thank you for inviting me.
The theme of today’s conference is “Envisioning the Future”. There is a wide spectrum of emerging technologies we can talk about from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 5G, to biomanufacturing and quantum technology. It is a meaningful theme. A clear vision for the future helps to challenge us to dream and act on the possibilities. For Singapore, our Smart Nation Initiative outlines our vision for a digital-first island home. And we are making progress on numerous fronts, from e-payments to digital identity. In every possible way, we aim to better the lives of our people.
Today, I would like to focus on AI. Some of you may remember that in 2019, Singapore launched our National AI Strategy here at SWITCH. Fast forward two years, on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in his opening address gave an update on the progress of this Strategy. He announced the launch of two new National AI Programmes in the Government and Finance sectors, as well as our plans to set aside an additional $180 million for AI research and development.
In line with today’s conference theme, I would like to give an update on what we have done to prepare Singapore and Singaporeans for a future driven by AI. Specifically, I would like to touch on four points:
- Strengthening partnerships;
- Education and training to empower our people to seize opportunities;
- Data sharing; and lastly
- AI governance.
First, on strengthening partnerships.
We often hear exciting news about new advancements in AI research – how AI is beating top human players in games like Go and StarCraft, and how AI can predict protein structure and be used for drug discovery.
Such advancements stir our imaginations. In reality, deploying AI successfully in real-world environments is not such an easy task. From our experience implementing the National AI Strategy, there are a range of challenges involved, from finding the right data and redesigning work processes, to ensuring good AI governance.
Each of these challenges are multifaceted and complex. We need stakeholders to come together to address them effectively. This is why a key focus of our National AI Strategy has been to strengthen partnerships between the Government, academia, and industry.
AI Singapore (AISG), our national AI R&D programme, is a key partner in this effort. Through their 100 Experiments programme, AISG has partnered with more than 70 companies to co-develop novel AI applications. Pre-built AI solutions that can be found on their AI Makerspace platform have also been very well-used; they have been downloaded more than 70,000 times.
We have also set up many testbed sites and regulatory sandboxes and partnered with industry to test and refine new AI technologies in a safe environment. Examples include the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed to trial cooling technologies like digital twins and energy optimisation algorithms. Another example is the Centre for Healthcare Innovation Start-up Enterprise Link (CHISEL), to testbed innovative healthcare technologies like medical imaging and clinical risk scoring solutions. Yet another example is the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC)’s data regulatory sandbox, to help businesses explore and pilot innovative uses of data.
AI Education and Training
AI education and training is another important area of focus.
To help Singaporeans take on good jobs in an AI-driven economy, we have and will continue to invest heavily in our people. We have increased the number of places in Information and Digital Technologies degree courses from 800 in 2010 to 3,100 in 2020. That is a four-fold increase in 10 years. Our TechSkills Accelerator programme has also been well-received. Since 2016, the programme has helped more than 10,000 adult Singaporeans acquire new tech skills and placed them in good tech jobs, including AI.
In addition to professional training, we are helping Singaporeans acquire foundational AI and digital literacy skills. Anchoring this effort is the Ministry of Education’s National Digital Literacy Programme. Launched in March 2020, the programme helps students across our schools and Institutes of Higher Learning acquire digital skills. For example, all students in the 2021 intake1 of our autonomous universities, polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) will acquire baseline digital competencies such as in data and computational thinking . Beyond schools, we are stepping up foundational AI and digital literacy skills training for Singaporeans. For instance, since 2018, AISG has equipped more than 55,000 individuals with basic AI awareness through their foundational AI skills programmes.
Let me now move on to data.
As a small country, we cannot compete on the absolute size of our datasets. However, our ability to fuse data across different domains creates much richer datasets that can support more innovative AI solutions.
To do this, we are investing in data-sharing frameworks and platforms to help stakeholders exchange data in an open and secure manner. We are taking a sectoral approach to this, recognising that each sector has specific needs and different competitive landscapes.
One such initiative is the recently launched Singapore Financial Data Exchange (SGFinDex). Under the initiative, users can leverage our national digital identity system, Singpass, to pool all their financial data from across banks, government agencies, and other financial institutions into a single platform of their choice. This has enabled banks to offer new AI-enabled services, such as personalised dashboards that leverage predictive analytics to help users manage their finances. Another example is the Singapore Trade Data Exchange (SGTraDex), a common data infrastructure to help stakeholders in our supply chain ecosystem share data securely. From the early results of our pilot, it is estimated that the platform can unlock more than $200 million of value annually for the supply chain ecosystem.
Finally, I would like to share about the work we have done in AI governance.
As AI becomes more pervasive, its impact on our lives will increase. We must strive for safe and ethical use of AI systems. We must strengthen business and consumer trust, which will in turn spur AI innovation, allowing Singapore to tap on the immense potential of AI.
Our approach is to work with stakeholders across the ecosystem to foster good AI governance through the promotion of guidelines and best practices. To this end, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and PDPC have released guidance documents such as the voluntary Model AI Governance Framework and use cases. Sector-specific AI governance guidelines for the finance and healthcare industries have also been published; and we plan to roll out guidelines for more sectors. These guidelines go beyond high-level principles. They provide practical steps that organisations can take to deploy their AI systems more responsibly.
We will also recommend technical tools that organisations can use to ensure their AI systems are fair and ethical. For example, in the coming weeks, we will launch the Veritas toolkit, an open-source AI governance tool for the finance sector, to protect customers of banks and insurance companies against unfair discrimination, especially in high-impact AI use cases like credit risk scoring and predictive underwriting. We are also developing an AI governance testing framework and technical tools, to help owners and developers be more transparent about their AI solutions.
There is still a lot to be done, as we work towards building trust in AI.
I have spoken about Singapore’s efforts to strengthen partnerships, education and training, data, and governance in support of our AI journey.
Let me conclude by going back to the theme of today’s conference – “Envisioning the Future”.
There is no doubt that AI is an exciting field. And a lot has been said about its potential impact on the way we work, live and play. Together, let’s ride on these winds of change and take bold yet pragmatic steps in harnessing the best use of AI for our future.
I wish you a fruitful conference ahead.
Mrs Josephine Teo
Minister for Communications and Information,
and Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity
AY2021 Intake ↩