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Data breaches won't derail Singapore's tech push: Minister

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"We cannot go back to pen and paper," said Vivian Balakrishnan, the Singapore minister tasked with transforming the city-state into a Smart Nation.

[SAN FRANCISCO] Recent data breaches, including one where details of HIV patients were leaked, won’t hold back Singapore’s efforts in testing and investing in the latest technology to build what it termed as a “Smart Nation”.

“We cannot go back to pen and paper,” said Vivian Balakrishnan, the Singapore minister tasked with transforming the city state into a Smart Nation. “If people lose confidence in the integrity and security of the system, then all these aspirations cannot be fulfilled.”

The government’s response to these cybersecurity attacks and human leaks has to be one where it’s completely open, along with corrective measures it would take, Dr Balakrishnan said in an interview in San Francisco, where he’s attending Singapore-run tech conferences and visiting tech companies. He is also the island’s foreign affairs minister.

A Public Sector Data Security Review Committee made up of Singapore ministers and non-government members met for the first time this week and reviewed past data incidents and broad approaches to raise such security, according to a government statement. The committee will submit its final report to the prime minister by end-November, and in the interim, the government may announce data security measures that can be implemented earlier, it said.

AI revolution

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The next wave of development in Singapore’s tech efforts will be artificial intelligence or AI - which the minister says has seen a “revolution” in the past two to three years. Machines have evolved from just learning rules to adopting pattern recognition, he said.

The deployment of AI is also crucial with increasing threats of cybersecurity, where hackers are constantly finding new ways to access confidential information.

“The attacks keep changing, they keep evolving - the battlefield has changed,” Nicole Eagan, chief executive officer of cybersecurity firm Darktrace Ltd, said at the Bridge Conference in San Francisco this week.

“Now, we have seen the attacks moving at machine speed. We’re getting to the point where humans just can’t keep up, and we need artificial intelligence to help them get ahead of the game.”

Singapore will train its workforce with AI capabilities, starting with civil servants, Dr Balakrishnan said.

“The ability to deploy AI in our respective fields should be commoditised,” he said. “We will be one of the earliest adopters of these new technologies.”

The earlier phase of Singapore’s tech effort has pushed more residents to use apps on mobile devices for payments and other transactions. An app was even created to pay - and extend - parking fees remotely from phones. These so-called e-transactions have now overtaken ATM withdrawals in terms of value, he said.

Some new developments include:

  • A single portal later this year to cut the red tape for restaurant applications (these have to be approved by 14 different government agencies now)
  • ‘Pay Now Corporate’ for payments and fund transfers to companies

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