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Singapore to invest S$50m in ‘digital trust’ capabilities

The Singapore government is pumping in S$50m to bolster research in technologies that will foster digital trust in areas such as privacy protection and identity management

The Singapore government is investing S$50m ($37m) over the next five years to bolster its “digital trust” capabilities in areas such as privacy protection and identity management.

The move will bring together industry players, research institutions and universities to drive research in technologies such as blockchain that support digital trust principles such as safety, transparency, and accountability.

Speaking at a virtual tech industry conference, Singapore’s minister for communications and information, Josephine Teo, said while the country’s infocomm and media industry grew by 4.8% in 2020, the digital world is not governed the same way as the analogue world.

“Data breaches, cyber hacks, and identity theft have become more commonplace. Many victims are caught by surprise – the safety of their analogue world did not prepare them for the dangers in cyber space. Having fallen prey, it is hard to know who or what to trust,” she said.

Noting that a deficit of trust will eventually impede growth, Teo said Singapore wants to foster an environment where businesses and consumers feel safe and confident about using digital technologies.

In that regard, she said Singapore has also gone further and deeper to build trust in domains like artificial intelligence (AI).

“In recent years, there has been greater attention on AI governance. The growing adoption of AI for high-impact autonomous decision making, such as in medical diagnosis and financial credit scoring, has made regulators and consumers more sensitive towards its trustworthiness,” she said.

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This has given rise to the proliferation of AI guidelines and frameworks, reflecting a common desire to move from principles to practice. “This is why we have been helping industry build trust with their stakeholders. Together with industry players, we have developed practical guidelines on how to deploy AI responsibly,” said Teo.

In January 2020, the Singapore government released Asia’s first AI governance framework to help businesses tackle the ethical and governance challenges arising from the growing use of AI across industries. The framework was updated a year later to improve its relevance and usability for organisations that are implementing AI.

“Our model AI governance framework, its accompanying self-assessment guide, and industry use cases are not only useful to practitioners, but also contribute to the global discourse on AI ethics and governance,” she said. “Sectors such as healthcare have also adapted the framework to provide sector-specific guidance to their stakeholders.

“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 industry to achieve greater transparency around AI systems, and enable organisations to deploy AI systems in a trusted manner.”

Singapore’s investment in digital trust capabilities comes a day after it announced SGTraDex, a common data infrastructure and framework that would enable logistics players, shippers and buyers exchange trade data in a secure environment.

Through SGTraDex, previously unavailable or difficult to obtain data – such as real-time cargo location – can be attained, enabling logistic players and shippers to optimise cargo handling and operations.

Nidhi Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Portcast, a Singapore-based logistics management startup, said the initiative would aid small and medium-sized logistics players in their digital transformation journey. However, given the global nature of the supply chain industry, she noted that players in other countries will need to get onboard for it to realise its full potential.

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