S'pore to invest $50m over 5 years in efforts to build digital trust: Josephine Teo

Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said the efforts will focus on three areas: trusted analysis, trusted identity and trusted accreditation.
Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said the efforts will focus on three areas: trusted analysis, trusted identity and trusted accreditation.PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - Singapore will invest $50 million over the next five years to support efforts to create a trusted digital environment for its people and businesses.

Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo announced the initiative, to be spearheaded by the Infocomm Media Development Authority and the National Research Foundation Singapore, on the second day of the Asia Tech X Singapore event on Wednesday (July 14).

The scheme will bring together industry players, research institutions and institutes of higher learning to drive research in technologies that support digital trust principles such as safety, transparency and accountability.

Mrs Teo said the efforts will focus on three areas: trusted analysis, where businesses can derive insights while preserving data privacy; trusted identity, where identity can be verified and authenticated even as new decentralised architectures emerge; and trusted accreditation, where products and services are tested and audited to provide assurance to consumers.

"This will provide businesses and consumers with greater assurance and confidence as they digitalise," she said.

Mrs Teo, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative, said that despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global economy, the digital economy appears to be a bright spot.

While Singapore's broader economy shrank by 5.4 per cent last year, the infocomm media sector grew by 4.8 per cent, and many more jobs in the digital space will be created over the next few years, she noted.

The minister said factors like sound infrastructure and investments in education and training, as well as an open and connected environment in Singapore, have contributed to these positive trends, but there are also roadblocks to further development.

"For our digital developments to go further, a foundation of trust is increasingly important."

Data breaches, cyber hacks and identity theft have become more commonplace, and many victims are caught by surprise as the safety of their analogue world did not prepare them for the dangers in cyberspace, Mrs Teo said.

While artificial intelligence (AI) has unlocked new possibilities in areas such as medical diagnostics, autonomous vehicles and optimising supply chain routes to reduce carbon emissions, Mrs Teo noted that there is also a growing level of distrust over how AI may be applied.

"We should be concerned. A deficit of trust will eventually impede growth. More importantly, trust is a fundamental value worthy of being upheld," she said.

Mrs Teo cited some of Singapore's efforts to build trust in specific domains like AI, such as Singapore's Model AI Governance Framework, which provides practical guidelines for private sector organisations on how to deploy AI responsibly.

These efforts are not only useful to practitioners, but they also contribute to the global discourse on AI ethics and governance, she said.

"At the same time, Singapore recognises the difficulties faced by organisations and regulators in objectively verifying and validating AI systems. Hence, we are developing testing and certification programmes that allow the industry to achieve greater transparency around AI systems, and enable organisations to deploy AI systems in a trusted manner."

But Singapore cannot create a trusted digital environment for its people and businesses on its own, Mrs Teo said.

"We will need credible and reliable partners to achieve common goals. They include other governments, businesses, researchers and think-tanks. Each plays a useful role in creating a safer digital environment," she added.