Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore Fintech Festival X Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology 2019 on 13 November 2019.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
Minister for Foreign Affairs and
Minister-in-Charge of The Smart Nation Initiative
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to join all of you this morning. This is the first year we are hosting the Singapore Fintech Festival and the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology together, as SFF x SWITCH. SFF and SWITCH started as separate events in 2016, and each has grown in scale and significance since. We chose to bring both events together, as there is strong synergy in content and networks. This combined conference has gathered 60,000 participants from 130 countries, with more than 40 international pavilions, 900 exhibitors, and 400 speakers.
SFF and SWITCH brings together thought leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and innovators from around the world. This is a great opportunity for all of us here to exchange views, gain insights and explore new areas of collaboration, as well as look at how we can transform scientific discoveries and technological advancements, into useful applications.
This conference focuses on five key sectors, including the financial sector, which is at the forefront of deploying some of the most frontier technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence and blockchain. I am glad that beyond new technology and Industry 4.0, this conference features sustainability as a key theme. This will focus not just on developing and deploying technology, but also on ensuring inclusion, improving lives, and protecting Planet Earth. Financial inclusion, in particular, is a topic close to Her Majesty Queen Maxima’s heart, and I was happy to hear her speak about this at her address earlier.
The transformative power of innovation and technology can overcome pressing challenges and create new value and possibilities. Singapore’s development story over the last five decades is testament to this. As a small island state with no natural resources, innovation and technology have enabled us to overcome our constraints to become a liveable city, with a competitive economy and a progressive society. Take our water story. Singapore has a limited supply of fresh water. By investing heavily in research and technology in desalination and recycling used water, we turned adversity into opportunity. Today, we can meet up to two-thirds of our country’s water needs through technology. We also export these solutions to other countries.
We are applying the same spirit of enterprise and commitment to turn other national challenges into new “water stories”. As a city-state with limited agricultural land, we are leveraging technology to develop urban farming so that we can produce 30% of our nutritional needs in Singapore by 2030 – our 30 by 30 goal. To be more environmentally sustainable, we are testing creative solutions for cleaner energy, such as floating solar panels on water. With an ageing population, we are enabling our people to not only live longer, but also live healthier in their silver years. While our contexts might be different, these challenges are common across many countries.
Singapore's National AI StrategyCountries will need to keep pace with technology, and harness it to tackle common challenges and national priorities. Singapore has placed a strong emphasis on technology and innovation. Five years ago, we announced our vision to be a Smart Nation, using digital technology to transform our Government, economy, and society. Today, we are taking the next step in our Smart Nation journey, by launching Singapore’s National Artificial Intelligence Strategy. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is one of the new frontiers in technology, and we can already see its applications in our daily lives. AI chatbots, which mimic natural language, are now widespread. Robo-advisors, powered by AI, can provide financial advice to clients and optimise their assets based on their preferences.
Singapore is ready to deploy Artificial Intelligence at a national scale: We have committed over 500 million dollars to fund activities related to AI under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan. We will create a new National Artificial Intelligence Office, to bring together Singapore’s efforts, as we aim to be a leader in developing and deploying AI solutions by 2030. We will kickstart this effort by embarking on five national projects, while building the enablers that sustain a vibrant AI ecosystem.
One such project relates to healthcare – one of the common challenges for many countries. There is great potential for AI to be applied to the prediction, detection and management of chronic diseases. Many seniors suffer from chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. Many might be unaware of their conditions, which, if left untreated, can lead to serious medical complications. AI can be used to analyse clinical and genomic data, medical images, and health behaviours to better assess the risk profile of individual patients – for better prevention and care management. Our first step is to deploy SELENA+, an AI system that is able to detect three major eye conditions – including diabetic eye disease – from retinal photographs accurately and quickly. These solutions can be applied beyond Singapore, to the region and the world.
Shaping the FutureI have spoken about the transformative power of innovation and technology in overcoming pressing challenges around the world. I have also spoken about how countries will need to invest in and keep up with technological advancements. But many of us are also keenly aware that while technology and innovation can help us tackle common challenges, they also create new downsides. Social media has brought people closer together across distances. But it has also become a conduit for divisive content and fake news. Automation and the Internet of Things have improved productivity by leaps and bounds. But they have also disrupted the livelihoods of many workers. As technology historian Melvin Kranzberg said: “Technology is neither good nor bad, neither is it neutral”. We must therefore work together to maximise the benefits of innovation and technology to humanity, and mitigate the costs.
As countries around the world ride on the wave of technology into the future, how do we harness it to be a force for good? I believe three key principles should underpin our quest for better innovation and technology: One, putting people at the heart of our endeavours. Two, staying open and connected. Three, ensuring good governance of new technologies.
Putting People at the HeartPeople must always be at the heart of how we use technology. This means taking a human-centric approach to the application of technology, and ensuring workers are skilled in the use of new technology.
No matter how sophisticated the technology, its application must be designed with the user in mind. Otherwise, we will end up with exclusive products that only the highly educated can access, or the wealthy can afford. Many countries are already embarking on a human-centric approach in the use of technology, such as Society 5.0 in Japan, and technology can improve livelihoods of people in very significant ways. For example, fintech has enabled many developing countries to reach their ‘unbanked’, giving them access to credit and financial services that have changed their lives. In Singapore, our Smart Nation Ambassadors volunteer their time to teach seniors digital skills, so that they too can better connect with their loved ones and access e-services. Practical, accessible, inclusive – this is what it means for us to put people at the heart in the use of technology.
Applying technology in a human-centric way means ensuring our workers are skilled in the use of new technology. We must empower our workers to be technology savvy, and grow a strong core of research scientists, developers, engineers, product managers, and entrepreneurs.
Here in Singapore, we have invested significantly in developing our people, especially in fields relating to technology. Take our national AI strategy, which I just announced. We are growing the pool of talent that can support this strategy. Upstream, the Singapore University of Technology and Design recently launched a new degree on AI and design. Last month, our agencies partnered IBM to help build deep AI capabilities. We aim to train 2,500 workers within the next three years through this programme. Singapore also aims to train 25,000 professionals in basic AI coding and implementation by 2025.
This is how Singapore seeks to put our people at the heart of how we use technology – both in terms of how we apply technology, and ensuring our people are skilled in the use of technology. Many countries around the world are also doing likewise, and we have much to learn from one another.
Stay Open and ConnectedEarlier I touched on adopting a people-centric approach. The second principle is on innovation, to learn from and collaborate with one another. Technology and innovation thrive in an open and connected environment. Through collaboration, we achieve more such as when we bring the research community, industry, and Government – or what the Dutch term the ‘triple helix model of innovation’ – and through collaborating beyond national borders, through international partnerships to work on common challenges.
Within Singapore, we will continue to strengthen the spirit of partnership and collaboration. Today, we are launching the AI Makerspace, to enable smaller enterprises to jumpstart their AI journey by providing them with access to data, AI libraries, and supercomputing resources. Government agencies are also working closely with our universities. With the National University of Singapore to set up a new research institute, the Asian Institute of Digital Finance, which will also house a “Fincubator” to bring fintech research ideas to market; and with the Singapore University of Technology and Design in the development of smart estates. This includes piloting a “Data Lake” – an estate-level dataset, which will provide the foundation to translate AI research into use cases, such as predictive building maintenance. We are setting up a new consortium of research institutes, companies and government agencies to develop batteries that are more sustainable.
Internationally, we are committed to working together with researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators from all over the world, to develop ideas to deal with our common challenges. Through our new Open Innovation Network and expanded Open Innovation Platform, we are calling for interested partners. To come forward and tackle complex challenges and to source for innovative solutions in areas like sustainability and advanced manufacturing. We are also expanding the Global Innovation Alliance to a 13th city – London. London is one of the largest financial centres in the world. This expansion will enable tech enterprises and start-ups in the two centres to share ideas and explore opportunities for collaboration.
I hope that these initiatives and this conference will catalyse collaboration across different parts of the triple helix and beyond our shores with different parts of the world. I am happy to see so many of you here from different parts of the world.
Ensuring Good GovernanceCollaboration is key to innovation and technology. Ultimately, good governance is critical. This is the third principle I will speak on. In opening up new frontiers – such as in precision medicine and autonomous vehicles – technology and innovation open up new risks. Engineers have to ask ‘can it be done’, while entrepreneurs and venture capitalists ask ‘can it make money’. We now have to ask two more questions: ‘should it be done’ and ‘how should it be done’. Experts in technology and governance must come together to decide how fast and how far technologies should be deployed, and how to do so ethically.
Good governance allows us to create a safe and trusted environment that fosters innovation and technology. This is not new. Countries came together to set international rules for the global commons, including climate change, maritime and aviation. We must now do the same for emerging areas, such as the cyberspace and Artificial Intelligence.
There is particular urgency to do this for cyberspace. Cyberattacks on our critical infrastructure, data and financial systems have become both highly likely and highly damaging and unlike conventional warfare, the targets and perpetuators are no longer confined to state actors. I am glad that like-minded countries are coming together to establish a robust regime for cyberspace such as the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts and the Open-Ended Working Group; and ASEAN has also set up a working-level committee to ensure responsible state behaviour in the cyberspace.
For Artificial Intelligence, we must preserve a space for innovation, while defining rules to maintain accountability. Earlier this year, Singapore published Asia’s first Model AI Governance framework, providing readily implementable guidance to address key ethical and governance issues in AI. This week, a delegation from Singapore is presenting our human-centric approach to AI at the Paris Peace Forum. We are also doing more to support the adoption of AI in the financial sector. AI has the potential to transform financial services, but must be used in a safe and responsible manner. The Monetary Authority of Singapore is therefore working with the industry on a framework called “Veritas”, to provide open source tools for financial institutions to ensure that their use of AI and data analytics remain fair, ethical, accountable and transparent.
ConclusionTechnology is an unstoppable force of change, and we must harness this force positively to improve the lives of people and our environment. As we venture into the future: We must ensure that our quest for innovation and technology puts people at the centre, and remains accessible to all. We must remain open and connected, collaborating with each other and across borders; and we must have good governance, to build the trust and confidence for innovation to take off.
This gathering today is a gathering of explorers and pathfinders from around the world. I hope you have been inspired by your experience, gathered new insights, made new connections and forged new areas for collaboration.
Together, we can break new ground and harness technology to build a better tomorrow for ourselves and our children.
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