DPM Teo Chee Hean at the Inaugural Singapore Defence Technology Summit 2018

SM Teo Chee Hean | 28 June 2018

Speech by DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the Inaugural Singapore Defence Technology Summit 2018 on 28 June 2018.


New Opportunities, New Vulnerabilities, New Partnerships for the 4th Industrial Revolution 

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, 
Distinguished Guests, 
Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I am happy to join you at this inaugural Singapore Defence Technology Summit. To our overseas guests, a warm welcome to Singapore. This Summit brings together industry captains, government officials and researchers to discuss how emerging technologies can impact society and our defence and security landscape.    

We live in a new age of rapid technology innovation. There are exciting breakthroughs in a wide range of areas that you are experts in –data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive computing, the Internet of Things and nanotechnology, to name a few.

Not only are the individual technologies revolutionary, these technologies are also being combined across physical, digital and biological boundaries in an unprecedented way. Some have termed this, quite aptly, as the 4th Industrial Revolution. Like the first three Industrial Revolutions , the on-going 4th Industrial Revolution is transforming our lives – how communities form and govern themselves in the physical world or in the virtual world, how we obtain and process information about the world around us,  how we interact with one another and at work,  and how goods and services are produced and exchanged. 

We now live in an increasingly inter-connected world. Networks and systems are expanding and spreading across business and industrial sectors, and across national boundaries. The opportunities are limited only by one’s imagination and creativity. System-of-systems interact with each other, with such complexity and speed that it requires technology itself to come up with solutions to manage technology. This presents its own issues. When hackers pry these systems open, the vulnerabilities exposed are also often beyond what we imagined to be possible.     

Against this backdrop, I would like to address three sets of issues which affect our security, arising from the 4th Industrial Revolution – What are the opportunities?  Where are the new vulnerabilities? And what new partnerships do we need to seize the opportunities, deal with the vulnerabilities, and address the attendant governance issues? 

Seizing New Opportunities
What are the opportunities?

New sensing and data analysis tools allow us to achieve near comprehensive awareness. Remote, precise and rapid response capabilities allow us to deal more effectively with conventional or traditional threats in the physical world. These have been used to good effect in the battlefield allowing us achieve the mission with lower collateral damage.

On the home front, we are able to protect our borders better, seek out and detect potential threats before they develop into actual attacks. We have the technology to share information on known terrorists and stolen travel documents through Interpol and other arrangements. Coupled with biometrics and facial recognition, security agencies can stop such persons from crossing borders. These of course have to be done in accordance with international and our own national laws. The question is, are these adequate to deal with these new situations and technologies?

Another major change is that commercial technologies are now often advancing more rapidly than specialised solutions for defence and security. Many technologies used in everyday life, such as the Internet, Global Positioning System and microprocessors, can trace their roots to the investments in R&D by governments since the 1950s to meet defence and security needs. However, the commercial sector has now become a significant source of funding and leading-edge innovations.  

Private sector R&D expenditure has exceeded government R&D expenditure for most OECD countries, and accounts for more than three-quarters of total R&D expenditure in several key Asian economies.  This proliferation of technical know-how has fuelled waves of innovation and rapid prototyping as new tech products and services jostle for first-mover advantage to capture market share and profits. 

Many of these commercial technologies and products can be adapted to meet defence and security needs. They supersede slower-evolving bespoke systems, and thanks to a larger user base, often cost less due to economies-of-scale.  Drones, which were once exclusive to the military, have now become commonplace. They are used for recreation and in commercial applications, ranging from filming to farming, and are being tried out for delivery and transport.  The biggest UAV manufacturer in the world produces largely for the civilian market, not for security and defence purposes. We have now come full circle. Commercial robots and UAVs are being adapted for defence and security applications such as bomb sending and disposal, reconnaissance, and radiation detection. 

Over the next few days, you will be discussing how commercial technologies can be applied more widely and creatively to address our security challenges. In Singapore, we have deployed a mix of commercial and military, manned and unmanned systems and sensors to form a comprehensive coastal surveillance network to detect maritime threats in the very busy Singapore Strait. And the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre is working with partners to enhance its sense-making by collating and fusing information from various sources. Data and video analytics allows our security agencies to better understand a vessel’s voyage and its crew’s “pattern of life” to detect anomalies and take preventive action. 

As unmanned and autonomous technologies mature, we can also expect more robots working together with us as a team. This opens up new frontiers for the defence and security sector.  The Republic of Singapore Navy deployed unmanned surface vessels (or “USVs”) to good effect on protection missions in the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden about a decade ago. A combination of USVs working autonomously or together with manned warships can offer better solutions to keep the Straits of Malacca and Singapore safe and secure for all vessels. 

Addressing New Vulnerabilities

Second, as 4th Industrial Revolution systems become more widely deployed, the defence and security community will need to address new vulnerabilities. 

We all now rely more on interconnected digital systems. This creates new inter-dependencies. Larger and more interconnected systems increase the surface area that is vulnerable to attack. Attacks can develop with great speed and scale and cause damage across the whole system. 

Already, unconventional or non-traditional warfare does not refer to guerrillas conducting hit-and-run attacks and then disappearing into the foliage in the jungles.  Cyberattacks can now be carried out anonymously on a country’s telecommunications, broadcasting or banking systems. We have also seen more insidious attempts to interfere surreptitiously in the internal affairs of a country and to influence the outcome of elections.

The WannaCry ransomware attacks in May last year infected 300,000 machines in more than 150 countries in just four days.  Even physical services, such as hospitals in Britain were forced to close temporarily.  Another cyber-attack, the NotPetya, crippled shipping giant Maersk’s IT systems last year. We felt it keenly over here in Singapore, because we are a major global port. Given that a Maersk ship docks somewhere in the world every 15 minutes with 10,000 to 20,000 containers, there are considerable knock-on effects on international supply chains across many industries. Maersk had to revert to manual operations and then manually link up with the Port of Singapore’s automated systems to help manage its vessels in the region and keep vessels as close to schedule as possible till its digital tools were restored and reconnected. 

Technologies which help us to address gaps in our security and defence capabilities can themselves create new vulnerabilities. Take drones for example.  They solve many of the problems which we face in the security and defence domain. As commercially available drones become more affordable and capable, they have been used by criminals for smuggling and corporate espionage.  Terrorists also use them for surveillance and aerial delivery of improvised explosive devices to penetrate otherwise well-defended targets. It will take some time before more effective counter-measures become available, and affordable. Defence and security services around the world are barely keeping pace with the threats posed by such rapid technology developments.

As more everyday devices become connected through the Internet of Things, our cities and businesses become better managed, and our lives more convenient. But our vulnerabilities also increase exponentially. If we are concerned about air traffic control systems being hacked disrupting flights, what greater concerns and dangers there will be if UAVs and autonomous flying vehicles are added to the mix in the same airspace. 

Hybrid warfare encompassing the physical, virtual and socio-psychological spheres can now be waged on a wider scale, and penetrate more deeply due to the pervasiveness of digital systems, target analysis and micro-targeting. 

While the defence and security community is keenly aware of these new vulnerabilities, the reality, often, is that governments and commercial operators struggle to find solutions. Even major social media and technology companies are now grappling with how to assure consumers that their private data will be used responsibly. And also how to discharge their responsibility to ensure that the enormous power and reach of their platforms is not misused for societal harm. It is not an unadulterated good. We have to protect ourselves in some way and these social media companies have a responsibility as well.

Our conventional modes of regulation and protective measures will need to be geared up to deal with the speed, anonymity and scale of such new threats.

Governments, industry and academia need to share strategies and knowledge. 
And we must start the conversation now to address the governance and ethical concerns related to the use of these technologies. This is not a novel problem. The tense showdown between man and machine in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, may no longer be science-fiction. In fact, I think it is no longer science fiction. What choice would a self-driving vehicle make if compelled by circumstances to choose between injuring the driver, or a pedestrian?  Are the Three Laws of Robotics, first postulated by Isaac Asimov in 1942 adequate? And how do we operationalise them?

These once speculative science fiction stories have now developed into the realities that we face in the world today. If we want technologies to deliver the societal good that we hope for, then we have to deal with these issues so that they do not become a threat or a new source of problems for our societies and communities. These are hard questions that we will need to tackle, even as we welcome the benefits from the 4th Industrial Revolution. 

Forming New Partnerships

This brings me to the final set of issues - forming New Partnerships. That is why we are here over the next few days. 

As economies become more integrated and connected digitally, governments, companies and academia need to form partnerships to better address issues that cut across sectors and national boundaries. The more interconnected we are, and the more we rely on key nodes and critical information infrastructure, the higher the concentration risks. These can result in not just a local disruption, but potentially a system-wide global one. In 2016, major US-based internet traffic management company, Dyn, suffered multiple cyberattacks. This affected millions in the US and Europe, and access to many sites such as Paypal, Twitter and Netflix. More government and widely-used commercial services and data are now hosted by Amazon Web Services, Alibaba, Google or Microsoft not just for storage, but software as a service, to reap economies of scale and the most up-to-date software tools and capabilities. Governments and companies therefore need to address this concentration risk and work together with the research community to develop solutions to tackle these evolving vulnerabilities. 
Like other countries, Singapore has been ramping up our cybersecurity defences. Last year, for the first time, we conducted a national exercise covering all our 11 Critical Information Infrastructure sectors – from aviation and energy, to banking and healthcare. We look forward to working with our international partners to better understand how to deal with attacks not just on national systems, but globally interconnected systems – for example, the global financial system or cross-border trading or transport systems by air traffic control.

We also need to work together to establish new codes of practice and norms for technologies that are becoming ready for deployment, but where there are no international standards.  We are offering several testbeds in Singapore because of our scale, size and compactness. For instance, our Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research in Autonomous Vehicles has a 1.8-ha Test Circuit for evaluation in a sanitised environment before deployment on public roads. Various partners such as BMW, TUV SUD, TNO and TUM CREATE are already working with the Centre. We look forward to more collaborations in the future and working together in more controlled circumstances. We are building a very large new container port. We expect to have 2,000 autonomous vehicles working in our Port carrying containers between ships and container stacks. We are building a very large new airport in which we have to automate many of the processes including having autonomous vehicles, in part to save manpower. We look forward to more collaborations in the future. 


Colleagues, while we come from diverse backgrounds - from government, the private sector and academia - we share common goals. Through this conference, I trust that we will be able to develop new partnerships to harness the potential of the 4th Industrial Revolution for a better, safer and more secure world. 

Thank you very much for your presence.