Robust regulatory policies will boost AI adoption: Heng

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivering the opening address at the inaugural Sino-Singapore Artificial Intelligence Forum in Nanjing yesterday. The event was attended by about 350 AI experts and professionals.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivering the opening address at the inaugural Sino-Singapore Artificial Intelligence Forum in Nanjing yesterday. The event was attended by about 350 AI experts and professionals.ST PHOTO: DANSON CHEONG

Such a framework will enable innovation and can help level playing field, says minister

A robust regulatory framework that builds public trust and promotes experimentation and innovation is a key factor that will encourage the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

This will enable innovation and can help level the playing field, allowing start-ups with innovative ideas to compete, he added.

Such a framework was cited by Mr Heng at an AI forum in Nanjingas one of three "enablers" that will help bring about the adoption of AI across the economy and society.

The other two enablers are investing in research and development (R&D), and promoting the acceptance of AI among the public.

Mr Heng also drew attention to "regulatory sandboxes" in Singapore. They allow the Government to have a keen understanding of emerging technologies and new business models while staying alert to potential risks.

In a regulatory sandbox, legal and regulatory requirements are relaxed, so firms can test-bed their solutions in real but contained environments.

BUILD PUBLIC TRUST

Good regulatory policies build public trust. For technologies to receive widespread acceptance, the public must be convinced that their safety, privacy and data are safeguarded.

FINANCE MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT

The Land Transport Authority does this for autonomous vehicles and the Monetary Authority of Singapore for fintech, Mr Heng said, as he invited businesses and entrepreneurs from China to test-bed their solutions in Singapore's regulatory sandboxes.

He said there was also potential for Singapore and Chinese companies to form partnerships and test-bed AI technologies in Asean cities.

"Good regulatory policies build public trust. For technologies to receive widespread acceptance, the public must be convinced that their safety, privacy and data are safeguarded," he said.

Mr Heng, who began a nine-day working visit to China on Thursday, delivered the opening address at the inaugural Sino-Singapore Artificial Intelligence Forum held at the Singapore Nanjing Eco Hi-Tech Island, a development zone on an island in the Yangtze River.

He noted that Singapore's National Research Foundation has kept public R&D spending at 1 per cent of gross domestic product each year with good results.

As for promoting AI acceptance, the young must have a strong foundation of skills and knowledge so they are ready for the "AI-enabled economy of the future", he said.

Singapore introduced computer studies as a secondary school subject in 2006, while China released an AI textbook for high-school students recently. Nanyang Technological University is launching a new degree programme in data science and AI.

In his speech to about 350 AI experts and professionals, Mr Heng also touched on the transformative potential of AI to synthesise large amounts of information, improve lives and raise productivity.

This was especially important for countries such as Singapore and China which have an ageing population and slowing labour force growth, he said.

"The economic potential is significant," said Mr Heng, who cited a recent study by consulting firm McKinsey estimating that AI could create US$3.5 trillion (S$4.7 trillion) to US$5.8 trillion in annual value for the global economy.

The forum was organised by the Nanjing government and the Chinese Association for Artificial Intelligence. Co-organisers included Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2018, with the headline 'Robust regulatory policies will boost AI adoption: Heng'. Print Edition | Subscribe