PARLIAMENT: Budget debate

Make big data available to researchers: Lim Sun Sun

Nominated MP Lim Sun Sun has called for more data from national-level surveys to be made available for academics and researchers to do evidence-based policy analysis.

Singapore needs to undertake such a strategic move to fully realise its Smart Nation ambitions, she said in Parliament yesterday.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design professor believes academics have much to offer to help solve global problems such as rising income inequality, climate change and fake news. "With more concerted regulation around data-sharing, we can ensure universities are well-equipped with robust data to conduct research for societal benefit."

Concerns about data security could be addressed by generating "synthetic data" that protects privacy and confidentiality while representing authentic data, she said.

Singapore should consider studying the best practices of countries with advanced data-sharing infrastructure, such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom, she added.

She suggested that Singapore, one of the first countries to launch a Model AI Governance framework, could pioneer regulations on the collection and use of big data.

She noted the Republic is at a "critical crossroad" in mapping out future growth directions as its economy matures and digitalises.

The application of data analytics in virtually all aspects of life, from finance to urban planning, can generate powerful insights to optimise resources as well as improve service delivery and efficiency, she said. But this raises the question of who should own the data and be allowed to profit from it, she added.

Technology companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba have "selfishly hoarded their data", which they use to create market-dominating products and services.

"If we continue to let these Goliaths have exclusive rights to exploit the data that they harvest essentially for free from their users, what chance is there for the scrappy start-ups of the world to innovate for the greater good? We must leave the door wide open for start-ups to compete against incumbents," she said.

Having regulations on big data will have the "twin benefits of levelling the playing field between first-movers and start-ups, and fostering a vibrant pro-innovation environment", she added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2020, with the headline Make big data available to researchers: Lim Sun Sun. Subscribe