Singapore releases framework on how AI can be ethically used

Mr S. Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, speaking at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan 22, 2019. PHOTO: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

DAVOS - Singapore has released a framework on how artificial intelligence (AI) can be ethically and responsibly used, which businesses in the Republic and elsewhere can adopt as they grapple with issues that have emerged with new technology.

This model framework for AI governance is a "living document" intended to evolve along with the fast-paced changes in a digital economy.

It takes in feedback from the industry, and will be tweaked when it gets more views.

It was released by Mr S. Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting which he is attending.

The framework is the first in Asia to provide detailed and readily implementable guidance to private sector organisations using AI, said the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

AI is, in essence, computer programs or machines that can perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence. They include technology such as speech recognition and decision making.

For example, an online store might use AI to fully automate how it recommends products to a user based on his browsing and buying history.

But questions have been raised about the rapid rise of AI, including what if control and data fall into the wrong hands.

IMDA said two principles underpin Singapore's framework.

One is that decisions made by or with the help of AI are explainable, transparent and fair to consumers. The second is that AI solutions are human-centric.

Mr Iswaran, who spoke to reporters on Tuesday (Jan 22) on the sidelines of the WEF, described AI as frontier technology that has the potential to affect many sectors in very profound ways.

Singapore, he said, wants to be prepared in terms of its capabilities, technology investments and regulations.

On this front, the Republic has been working on several AI initiatives including an Advisory Council on the Ethical Use of AI and Data chaired by former Attorney-General V. K. Rajah.

Mr Iswaran said the framework was being released at WEF because it is a forum of global industry and government leaders, and a place where Singapore has always had "a certain mindshare" in terms of contributing to cutting-edge development and governance of policies.

It also allows Singapore to invite global feedback on the framework.

Indeed, issues related to the digital economy are key topics in this year's Davos meeting, with no fewer than 40 sessions devoted to it, many specifically on AI.

As for whether an AI governance model would deter companies from setting up shop in Singapore, Mr Iswaran stressed that it is not a set of prescriptive rules but a framework for companies to use.

He did not think the industry would be deterred.

"On the contrary, we might even be able to come out as one of the jurisdictions with sound approaches to data management and the governance of AI and other frontier technologies. In this case, more companies would want to be associated with us."

In a statement, Mr Rajah said he supported the release of the framework and urged businesses to pilot it and give feedback.

Singapore also announced a collaboration with the WEF's Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to further drive AI and data innovation, including engaging organisations to discuss Singapore's framework and facilitate its adoption.

Mr Murat Sonmez, managing director and head of the centre, said Singapore is focused on innovation and technology, and the centre looked forward to its contribution to global technology governance.

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