Coronavirus pandemic

Iswaran: Digital cooperation a must in post-Covid-19 world

Digital cooperation at the international level is indispensable in a post-Covid-19 world where digitalisation has become an imperative, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran told a United Nations online panel yesterday.

The move involves forging an international consensus on ethical and regulatory guidelines for various key technologies, such as artificial intelligence, cyber security and e-commerce.

"These are separate areas but with clear linkages... (and) we have to address them holistically, breaking down silos that might exist within governments and also in the international discourse," he said.

Mr Iswaran was speaking at a dialogue on the UN's digital cooperation roadmap launched by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last Thursday. The roadmap outlined eight key areas for action, including achieving universal Internet connectivity by 2030, fostering greater cooperation on artificial intelligence (AI), and promoting trust and security in the digital environment.

Referring to Singapore's regulatory approach to AI, Mr Iswaran said the Government has had to continually review and adjust guidelines on the deployment of AI, owing to the need for quick responses in an uncertain environment coupled with rapidly-evolving technology.

"Rather than prescriptive rules at this stage, Singapore believes in a balanced, pragmatic and collaborative approach with industry to build consumer trust, support innovation and deploy AI responsibly," he said.

He added that digitalisation does not come without certain downsides, like potentially exacerbating social and economic inequality. "Governments have a key role to play, both individually and working together through institutions like the UN, because of the potential scale and scope of our programmes," he added.

Mr Iswaran pointed to how the Government augmented its existing schemes to help lower-income families cope with the increased need for devices, like laptops, when schools had to shift to home-based learning because of Covid-19 this year.

Singapore has also strengthened its digital literacy and inclusion efforts with new initiatives driven by the Singapore Digital Office set up last month, he added.

These include the Hawkers Go Digital initiative, which aims to help more than 18,000 stallholders in hawker centres and wet markets adopt the unified Singapore Quick Response Code e-payments solution by the middle of next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2020, with the headline 'Iswaran: Digital cooperation a must in post-Covid-19 world'. Print Edition | Subscribe