DPM Heng Swee Keat at Asia Tech x Singapore (ATxSG) Summit Social

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 6 June 2023

Remarks by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Asia Tech x Singapore (ATxSG) Summit Social on 6 June 2023.


Minister Josephine Teo,
Ministers and Excellencies, 
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy to join all of you this evening, and to our overseas friends, a warm welcome to Singapore.

As Chuen Hong mentioned, Clifford Pier has borne witness to Singapore’s history, and served as a key point connecting Singapore to the rest of the world.

Connectivity – through the movement of goods, people and ideas – has enabled Singapore and the world to progress.

Today, we face a different kind of connectivity revolution, with services and data moving across geographies and economies in a matter of milli-seconds.

Digitalisation has compressed time and offers exciting prospects, especially with new developments such as AI. 

The speed of digital innovation has accelerated significantly. Just a few years ago, we were talking about the 4th Industrial Revolution. Today, we are all abuzz about generative AI. 

In fact, ChatGPT is reported to be the fastest growing consumer application in history, reaching 100 million monthly active users just two months after its launch.

There is much to be optimistic about the advances in digital technology.

During COVID-19, digital technologies sustained the way we lived and worked, and kept us connected even as we faced massive disruptions to our daily routines.

The global economy is transforming as the digital revolution advances. The World Bank estimates that the digital economy contributes to more than 15 percent of global GDP today, and has grown at 2.5 times faster than physical GDP in the past decade.

The possibilities offered by generative AI in particular are immense, and we are barely grasping its full potential. 

Many economists see generative AI as a ‘general purpose technology’, with the power to accelerate breakthroughs in other areas like precision medicine and fusion energy. 

At the same time, AI’s rapid development has generated anxiety and uncertainty. 

There is fear that AI and robotics will together replace many jobs, and new sources of competition will emerge as traditional borders break down. 

There are also concerns over AI’s unintended consequences or even misuse. 

The CEOs of Google DeepMind, Anthropic and OpenAI, among others, signed a recent statement that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority”. This is a powerful reminder from industry leaders on the frontlines.

During my recent visit to California, the experts I met at Stanford and Berkeley voiced similar sentiments – that the rapid advancements in AI must be accompanied by adequate safeguards to ensure its responsible use, and for AI to be human-centric.

How then do we best harness the potential of the digital revolution? The foundation for this is trust.

The late US Secretary of State George Shultz – a close friend of our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew – once wrote that “trust is the coin of the realm”.

Shultz was referring to governance and diplomacy, but it applies equally to many realms including digital technology.

In every technology revolution, there is a period of adjustment where users build their understanding of, and confidence in, these new technologies before they are more widely adopted. How far, and how fast, the new technologies diffuse depend on how much trust is reposed in them.

Building trust is a virtuous cycle – a greater understanding of its benefits, and taking action to manage risks, builds trust. In turn, greater confidence and trust enable wider use, to the benefit of more people. 

Building trust is therefore critical.  Let me suggest three ways to build trust.

First, we must have confidence that the digital technologies we use are secure and keep us safe.

Second, they must be a force for good, rather than harm or endanger society.

Third, they must be inclusive. They should extend benefits and opportunities to all people.

First, as we invest in new and emerging platforms, we must put, at the outset, a clear emphasis on safety and security.

An important emerging platform is quantum technologies. Quantum computers carry the promise of unlocking unprecedented advancements in computing power. This in turn could rapidly accelerate advances in AI and machine learning.

At the same time, they also present the risk of breaking the encryption algorithms we rely on today to secure our data and communications.

Governments around the world have stepped up their quantum efforts, to capitalise on its immense economic potential while simultaneously safeguard against the risks.

Japan, for example, issued a “Vision of Quantum Future Society” in April 2022 laying out a strategy to leverage quantum technology for industrial growth, carbon neutrality and to address social issues. 

The UK published its “National Quantum Strategy” in March 2023 with a ten-year plan to fund new frontiers in quantum research.

Singapore saw quantum’s potential many years ago.  We established the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) in 2007 to support research in quantum technologies.  Over the years, we have invested more than $250 million in CQT.

We have also established the National Quantum Safe Network (NQSN), a nationwide test-bed for quantum-safe communications technologies. But we can do more to safeguard communications for key sectors. 

In the Digital Connectivity Blueprint released yesterday, the Government set out how it will bring Singapore closer to being a quantum-safe nation in 10 years.

Today, I am pleased to announce that we are launching NQSN Plus (NQSN+). NQSN+ will support network operators to deploy quantum-safe networks nationwide, so that businesses can have easy access to quantum-safe solutions to safeguard their critical data.

Having choices is important for businesses and NQSN+ will support more than one local network operator to develop interoperable quantum-safe networks.

With these networks, businesses can explore different use cases, such as securing sensitive financial or medical data.

Singapore is also working together with partners around the world. 

At the International Telecommunication Union, Singapore and Japan are co-leading the standardisation of the Quantum Key Distribution protocol framework. This will be one of the key steps to secure our communications against malicious players. 

The second way to build trust is to find tangible ways in which digitalisation brings positive impact and benefits for our people. The public must feel the benefits of these technologies, which must be harnessed as a force for good.

There are many ways we can do this, to improve the lives of our people, even in simple everyday settings. Let me cite a few examples of what we are trying out in Singapore, and I hope we can learn more from one another on what else you are doing around the world.

Singapore has a rapidly ageing population.  Keeping everyone healthy is a national priority. We are rolling out mobile tele-health applications to enhance access to healthcare services, and this is particularly useful for seniors who are less mobile. 

To encourage everyone to lead more active lifestyles and delay the onset of chronic health conditions, we are also making use of digital applications. 

For example, in the National Steps Challenge, individuals use a wearable fitness tracker and the Healthy 365 mobile app to clock their daily physical activity, with rewards at different milestones.

As part of our efforts to deal with climate change, PUB, our national water agency has rolled out Smart Water Meters that record daily and even hourly water usage data. These are transmitted to users digitally, to enable households to track and modify their consumption patterns. 

These are some ways that we are trying in Singapore, to harness the benefits of digital technologies and to build trust with our people  But as I mentioned earlier, many of you are also piloting new ways. We should come together to learn from one another.

Third, we must ensure that digital technology is used in an inclusive way – to benefit all and not just a select group – and that it does not exacerbate inequalities. 

One of the common apprehensions with AI is that its power to analyse huge quantities of data, and to generate insights rapidly and more thoroughly, can replace many of the cognitive tasks that humans have been doing. 

This, together with the advances in robotics, can lead to job displacement at all levels.

This is an important concern.  Governments and industry must work together to transform the workforce, so that AI is not just Artificial Intelligence, but AI can be “Augmented Intelligence”.  We should harness AI to augment and enhance human potential, not replace humans.

One way of doing this is to redesign jobs and reskill workers. Companies should invest in redesigning jobs for the new digital economy, and partner governments in joint initiatives to ensure the responsible use of digital technologies. 

At the same time, governments need to put in place pathways for upskilling and reskilling, particularly for more mature workers, to harness new technologies.

In Singapore, we have been seeking to do so by working closely with industry, academia and the unions, through Industry Transformation Maps or ITMs. 

Under these ITMs, the Government works with enterprises across 23 economic sectors, to deploy new technological solutions to achieve greater productivity and innovation.

SkillsFuture Singapore has also put in place sector-specific Skills Frameworks, aligned with the ITMs, to provide enhanced training for workers to build their skills and confidence to undertake redesigned job roles.

Beyond Singapore, we must bring like-minded partners from around the world to harness the promises of the digital revolution.

I have spoken on the three ways to build trust – to build secure and safe networks, to demonstrate in tangible ways how we can harness technology for good, and to ensure that technology is deployed in an inclusive way.

While Singapore is an island, it is not an isolated island. And similarly, however big our countries may be, we are part of one world. To fully harness the benefits of the digital revolution, we must build trust across borders, and every one of us, regardless of where we come from, must contribute.

I am pleased to see that ATxSG has drawn an increasingly diverse audience over the past three years – technology entrepreneurs, researchers, industry veterans, as well as regulators, many of you from different countries.

The next few days present an excellent opportunity to connect and learn together, as well as to learn from one another. This will put all of us in a better position to harness this new and exciting digital revolution for our collective good. 

I wish everyone fruitful discussions and a memorable stay in Singapore. Thank you.