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Singapore releases AI model governance framework at World Economic Forum

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

[DAVOS] Singapore has released a model governance framework for artificial intelligence (AI), which companies in Singapore and elsewhere can adopt as they grapple with issues that have emerged with new technology.

The framework 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).

It said the framework is a "living document" intended to evolve along with the fast-paced changes in a digital economy.

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

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.

The IMDA said two principles underpin Singapore's model 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.

These principles will enhance trust in and understanding of AI, as well as acceptance of how AI-related decisions are made for the benefit of users, it said.

Mr Iswaran described AI as frontier technology. "This is the future. It has the potential to affect many sectors in a very profound way and we want to make sure Singapore is prepared for that," he said on Tuesday.

The framework takes broad principles and ethical considerations and translates them into practical measures, he said, adding that it takes into account the views of industry.

The framework was being released at WEF because it is a forum where Singapore has always had a certain mind share, he said. Singapore is also able to get global feedback on the framework because of the attendees at the event.

As for whether an AI framework would deter companies from setting up shop in Singapore, he stressed that it is not rules but a framework, and that it had taken into account industry feedback.

"I don't think industry is going to be deterred from doing things out of Singapore because of this," he said.

"In fact, on the contrary. If we are able to emerge as one of the jurisdictions where there is a sound approach to data management, to the governance of AI and other frontier technology, then I think more companies will want to be associated with us."

The framework builds on themes first raised in a discussion paper released in June 2018 by Singapore's Personal Data Protection Commission and the IMDA, mapping out key ethical principles that apply to common AI uses.

Mr V. K. Rajah, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Ethical Use of AI and Data, supported the release of the model framework and said the council will encourage businesses to implement it.

Singapore also announced a collaboration with the WEF's Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to further drive AI and data innovation.

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.