Singapore to set up “ethics council” on use of AI and data

Singapore to set up “ethics council” on use of AI and data

Council will take on advisory role and include thought leaders from local and international companies

Singapore is to set up an advisory council on the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data chaired by former attorney-general V.K. Rajah SC, taking on an advisory role and including thought leaders from local and international companies.

The council will advise the government of Singapore and assist them in developing ethics standards reference governance frameworks and publish advisory guidelines, practical guidance, and/or codes of practice for the voluntary adoption by the industry.

Singapore sees trust as necessary in building an ecosystem; this is why the ethics council is vital to facilitate a platform where such issues can be discussed and addressed. It is also essential considering Singapore’s ambition to be a hub for AI development and innovation.

Working closely with the infocomm media development authority (IMDA) the council will reach out to and engage with relevant stakeholders such as ethics boards of commercial enterprises on ethical and related issues arising from private sector use of AI and data, and consumer advocates on consumer expectations and acceptance of such application.

Furthermore, there will also be a concerted effort to engage the private capital community in increasing awareness of the need to incorporate ethics considerations in their investment decisions into businesses which develop or adopt AI.

Lastly, a panel of legal and technical experts will be assembled that will support the work of the advisory council, in addition to a panel of international experts for global perspectives.

As an example, In fraud detection, for instance, AI can be used to help financial institutes detect anomalies across millions of transactions. The council could look at how such an AI model can be explained to customers, for instance.

This would help customers understand why it is necessary for banks to examine transactional information, for example. It could also look at issues around data jurisdictions when banks are checking cross-border transactions and how to solve them.

A 2017 research report from Accenture showed the importance of AI adoption to Singapore’s future progress, indicating that with AI adoption the economy would nearly double by 2035.

It would also help the city-state's economy to expand faster than major economies such as the US, Germany, UK and Japan.

Without AI adoption, the local economy could take an additional decade to reach the same milestone. It could also raise the domestic labour productivity by 41 per cent by 2035, the highest among developed economies, and add US$215 billion (S$295 billion) in gross value added.

Data governance

The personal data protection commission (PDPC) has put forward a discussion paper to support the work of the advisory council.

The discussion paper sets out to examine how a possible reference AI and data governance framework for industries could look like, as well as what elements could be included.

Two fundamental principles are recommended in the discussion paper. The first principle relates to the fact that any decisions made by or with the assistance of AI should be explainable, transparent and fair to consumers.

The second principle relates to the fact that AI systems, robots and decisions should be human-centric.

Key government and industry stakeholders were consulted in the papers formation. An early and active contributor in creating the discussion paper was the Monetary Authority of Singapore, with its fairness, ethics, accountability and transparency (FEAT) committee actively using the paper to help shape its ongoing discussion on the use of AI and data analytics in the financial industry.

Investing in research

To support the work of the advisory council a grant of S$4.5 million from the national research foundation (NRF) and the IMDA has been awarded to the Singapore Management University (SMU) school of law to set up a five-year research programme on AI governance and data use.

The award follows a competitive application process that was open to all institutes of higher learning in January 2018.

“The research programme on the governance of AI and data use, and the setting up of a dedicated research centre, is not only timely but also necessary preconditions of Singapore’s successful digital future,” said associate professor Goh Yihan, dean of the SMU School of Law, who will provide leadership and oversight as a member of the centre’s executive committee.

"We are grateful for the trust and confidence that the government has placed in our law school and will ensure that the programme achieves its aim of establishing Singapore as a global thought leader in AI and data policies and regulations."

There will be three integrated streams as part of the research programme, AI and society, AI and industry, and AI and commercialisation. A new research centre will be set up later in 2018 where the research work will take place.

The intent is to build bridges between academia, industry and government by building up an interdisciplinary team of researchers.

"Through the careful integration of the three research streams of AI and society, AI and industry, and AI and commercialisation, we will develop government- and industry- relevant strategies for the governance of AI and data use, thereby contributing to the development of Singapore’s digital economy,” said Goh on the setting up of the new research programme.

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