Three key ways in building trust to effectively harness the power of emerging technologies.
Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat spoke to an international audience of government and technology leaders at the ATxSG Summit Social on 6 June 2023.
Below are excerpts of his speech on building trust in a rapidly digitalized world of AI and quantum computing.
“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.”
With ChatGPT reported to be the fastest-growing consumer application in history, reaching 100 million monthly active users just two months after its launch, Minister Heng noted that digitalization has compressed time and is offering exciting prospects, especially with new developments such as AI.
“There is much to be optimistic about the advances in digital technology,” he said. “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.”
With the global economy transforming with the digital revolution – the World Bank estimates that the digital economy contributes to more than 15% of global GDP today, and has grown 2.5 times faster than physical GDP in the past decade – Minister Heng found the possibilities offered by generative AI to be 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.”
AI fears and concerns
At the same time, he noted that 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.”
Noting that the CEOs of Google DeepMind, Anthropic and OpenAI, among others, have recently signed a statement that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority”, he calls it “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? He answered his own question with: “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.”
He sees building trust as 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.”
With building trust is being a critical matter, he suggested three ways to build trust:
- We must have confidence that the digital technologies we use are secure and keep us safe.
- They must be a force for good, rather than harm or endanger society.
- 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.” One example is in the area of quantum technologies.
Quantum computing is an important emerging technology platform. “Quantum computers carry the promise of unlocking unprecedented advancements in computing power. This in turn could rapidly accelerate advances in AI and machine learning.”
However, he noted, quantum technologies also present the risk of breaking encryption algorithms we rely on today to secure our data and communications.
“Governments around the world have stepped up their quantum efforts, to capitalize on its immense economic potential while simultaneously safeguard(ing) against the risks.”
Some examples include:
- Japan 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 established the Center 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.”
Noting that the Singapore government has set out how it will bring Singapore closer to being a quantum-safe nation in 10 years in the Digital Connectivity Blueprint released at ATxSG, Minister Heng also announced the launch of 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.”
Cybersecurity cannot be an isolated issue for a single nation. On top of NQSN+, the Singapore is also working together with partners around the world: “At the International Telecommunication Union, Singapore and Japan are co-leading the standardization of the Quantum Key Distribution protocol framework. This will be one of the key steps to secure our communications against malicious players.”
Building trust by being a force for good
“The second way to build trust is to find tangible ways in which digitalization 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.”
The minister cited a few examples of what are being tried out in Singapore:
- Singapore has a rapidly ageing population. Keeping everyone healthy is a national priority. It is 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, Singapore is 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 its efforts to deal with climate change, Singapore’s 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.”
Building trust by being inclusive
“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 analyze huge quantities of data, and to generate insights rapidly and more thoroughly, can replace many of the cognitive tasks that humans have been doing.”
Noting that this, together with the advances in robotics, can lead to job displacement at all levels, he acknowledged it as 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.”
Inclusivity and trust also needs to be cross-border. “Beyond Singapore, we must bring like-minded partners from around the world to harness the promises of the digital revolution… 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.”