New council to advise Singapore Government on ethical use of AI, data

New council to advise Singapore Government on ethical use of AI, data

The council will be headed by former attorney-general V K Rajah, and is part of three related initiatives to drive awareness and understand the challenges of artificial intelligence.

A council to advise the Singapore Government on the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data will be convened as part of initiatives to drive awareness of the benefits of the technology as well as better understand its challenges.

SINGAPORE: A council to advise the Singapore Government on the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data will be convened as part of initiatives to drive awareness of the benefits of the technology as well as better understand its challenges.

These initiatives were announced by Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran at the opening of Innovfest Unbound on Tuesday (Jun 5).

The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) said separately in a press release that it is speaking to key stakeholders – including the Government, industry, consumers and academia – to collaboratively shape plans for the AI ecosystem. This discourse, it said, will support the country’s plans to be a hub for AI development and innovation and effectively respond to global developments.

Mr Yeong Zee Kin, assistant chief executive of Data Innovation and Protection, was keen to point out that "a lot of AI is commonly used in process automation", such as fraud detection. "(On the other hand,) narrow or specific AI is what consumers interact with in voice recognition and recommendation engines," he told Channel NewsAsia.   

This is why there is a need to have a common language to talk about AI technology. 

There are three related initiatives to shape Singapore's AI industry:

  • Set up the Advisory Council on the Ethical Use of AI and Data

  • A research programme on the governance of AI and data use to advance and inform scholarly research on AI governance issues

  • A discussion paper released by the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) on responsible development and adoption of AI, which will be used by the council to frame its deliberations

IMDA said Mr Iswaran will appoint the members of the advisory council which will be chaired by former attorney-general V K Rajah.

Members will include private sector thought leaders in AI and big data from local and international companies as well as consumer interest representatives. More details on the council will be released at a later date, IMDA said.

The council will advise and work with the agency in the areas of responsible development and deployment of AI.

These include engaging stakeholders such as ethics boards of commercial enterprises on the issues arising from the use of AI and data by the private sector, and consumer advocates on people's expectations and acceptance of such use, it said.


The council will also help establish a legal and technical expert panel as well as a panel of international experts for global perspectives to aid it in its work, the press release said.

One example of what the council could look into is an online shopping platform using AI to recommend products to shoppers, an IMDA spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia. These recommendations are shown automatically on every product page to allow easy browsing and navigation, with the aim of increasing click-through and customer engagement rates.

“The council could look at issues such as how to explain to users that their shopping patterns are what forms related product recommendations from the AI, as well as how the AI aggregates data from all customers who have visited a particular product page to offer its alternate recommendations,” he explained.

“The AI’s modelling should also be clear to users in how it detects, for example, the price range of products it offers to users as well.”

Online shopping Singapore (1)
File photo of a person shopping online. (Photo: Christy Yip)

Another example cited was Luminance – an AI platform used by the legal profession for work in areas such as insurance or contract management and to conduct due diligence and compliance checks.

With this, law firms can offer multiple options and tiers to clients not possible before, such as the cheapest option of having the AI technology conduct the due diligence completely or a mid-tier level that would mean a team of lawyers checking the AI’s results, the spokesperson pointed out.

The advisory council could look at how the product can be transparent, fair and explained to end users, he added.

“A product such as Luminance (explained) clearly to clients helps them understand the benefits and risks of using the product, and enables law firms to offer a tiered approach to a service which traditionally only had one cost level,” explained the IMDA spokesperson.

Salesforce chief scientist Richard Socher told Channel NewsAsia in an interview on the sidelines of Innovfest Unbound that setting up the advisory council is "very sensible" on the part of the Singapore Government. 

That said, there is a need for sub-committees within the main council to look at how AI can be used in specific verticals such as recruitment within human resources, as there could be "existing biases", he added.

Citing the example of healthcare training and AI, Mr Socher said: "The data to be included in the machine learning algorithm needs to be inclusive and have data from minorities." Otherwise, the results derived would be skewed towards a certain race or ethnicity, he explained. 


The PDPC, meanwhile, is putting forward a discussion paper on how a possible reference AI and data governance framework for industries could look like.

It recommends two key principles:

  • Decisions made by or with the assistance of AI should be explainable, transparent and fair to consumers

  • AI systems, robots and decisions should be human-centric

IMDA said the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is an early collaborator in creating the discussion paper, with its Fairness, Ethics, Accountability and Transparency Committee using the document to help shape its ongoing discussion on the use of AI and data analytics in the financial industry.

Last, but not least, there will be a five-year research programme on the governance of AI and data use, which will be set up at the Singapore Management University.

SMU was awarded an S$4.5 million grant from the National Research Foundation and the IMDA to helm the programme. SMU School of Law will also set up a new research centre as part of this initiative.

The research and thought leadership generated from the programme will support the advisory council and inform Government and industry discussion on the technology.

These AI-related initiatives come as the Digital Government Blueprint was launched by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on the same day.

Within the document is a set of key performance indicators for the public sector to aim for by 2023, and these include having all ministries and its related agencies to have at least one AI project by then.

Asked what types of Government service have used AI, a Smart Nation and Digital Government Office spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia separately that an example is virtual assistant Ask Jamie.

The chatbot uses its natural language processing engine to understand users’ questions and respond with an appropriate answer, he explained.

The blueprint also said the Government will develop a set of guidelines on the use of AI to manage the risk, and the spokesperson said SNDGO is currently reviewing the guidelines and “will share more details when ready”.

Source: CNA/kk