Minister Josephine Teo at Tallinn Digital Summit
Singapore firmly believes in promoting AI for the Public Good. This is an important complement to the increasingly widespread adoption of AI by the private sector to benefit businesses and consumers. Minister for Communications and Information, Mrs Josephine Teo, shared her views about AI Governance for the Greater Good at the Tallinn Digital Summit 2023. Below is an excerpt of her comments:
Three Aims of Good Governance
“In thinking about AI Governance, we are mindful that it aligns with our overall approach to digital governance, which aims to expand opportunities for our people and businesses, ensure trust and safety, and strengthen community. Our strategies in digital governance include infrastructure investment, capability development, updating laws and regulations, promoting whole-of-society involvement and international cooperation.”
“When Singapore introduces new laws or updates existing laws in the digital domain, we have found it necessary to engage with the companies behind the products and services, and who will be impacted by the regulations. We build a relationship with them, and are firm and clear about our governance objectives. There is a need for the Government to master the technology so as to understand it deeply, but there is also a need to recognise that we will not know the deepest aspects of how it works. So, bringing onboard the developers of those systems, and getting them involved in developing the solutions is an important attitude to have.”
On the question of whether a global AI agency should be established
“Whether in the broader digital domain or specifically in AI Governance, international cooperation is essential and should lead to greater convergence rather than divergence. Our efforts should also support the development of interoperable principles, rules, systems, and standards.”
“As a small country, Singapore has benefitted greatly from a rules-based international order. We have been a keen supporter and active participant in international organisations such as International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Among other things, three key factors contribute to their effectiveness in governing the global commons:
a. Clear mandates backed by internationally recognised treaties and conventions: For example, IMO is backed by more than 20 conventions such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (1974, as amended).
b. Enforceable standards: For example, ICAO was set up to establish global standards and regulations for aviation safety, security, efficiency, and environmental protection; and IAEA was set up in to develop global safeguards (i.e., technical measures) to verify that nuclear facilities are not misused, and nuclear material are not diverted from peaceful uses. There are ways to audit if these obligations have been met, and consequences that follow when they are not.
c. Sustained evolution to adapt to changing needs: For example, ILO has evolved its labour standards to include emerging issues such as telework and the gig economy.”
“The foundations of success were built up over many years, before these organisations were established. We have to invest in the building blocks and promote international consensus.”
International Platforms and their Potential Positive Impacts on Governance
“How can new foundations be built that pave the way for the eventual establishment of a global governance agency for digital technologies including AI? The Counter Ransomware Initiative (CRI) provides a useful reference:
a. It is targeted yet comprehensive, focussing on ransomware but covering all aspects of it, from capacity-building and standard-setting to disrupting cyber criminals and countering illicit finance.
b. It focuses on implementing common rules, such as how ransom monies identified in one country can be prevented from leaving the financial system of another, thereby closing a loophole often exploited by ransomware criminals.
c. It adopts a pragmatic and inclusive approach to membership, starting with a small group of over 20 countries that saw the need to cooperate on this common challenge and welcoming any new country that is prepared to enforce the same rules. Membership has now more than doubled.”
“ASEAN Member States too have made steady progress in digital cooperation.
a. In the last two years we have put in place a Data management framework and adopted Model Contractual Clauses for Cross Border Data Flows by businesses.
b. We have started to discuss a Digital Economy Framework Agreement.
c. In January 2024, Singapore will take over from the Philippines the chairmanship of the ASEAN Digital Ministers Meeting (ADGMin). Building on the good work of our colleagues, we intend to launch an ASEAN Guide on AI.”
“These building blocks can also contribute to the eventual development of global agreements.”
Significance of the Tallinn Digital Summit
“International digital cooperation is more needed than ever, including in AI. Today’s meeting recognises the fact that many of the digital services that our citizens interact with are global in nature. It is very difficult for individual countries to try and put in place a governance framework without also considering its interoperability with others. Singapore hopes to see greater convergence of principles, rules, systems and standards, and will do our part to help bring them about.”
Background of Minister Josephine Teo’s Participation at TDS 2023
This is Minister Teo’s third visit to the annual TDS, since she took the helm as Minister for Communications and Information on 15 May 2021. TDS is a widely recognised annual event that brings together leaders from the digitally advanced world to address challenges and seize opportunities in the journey towards a connected digital future.
The theme of TDS 2023 is “Refreshing the Agenda of Democracy and Technology”, and Minister Teo’s panel session, “In the Search for Global Technology Governance: New Horizons and Risks”, at the TDS was moderated by Ms Nele Leosk, Ambassador at Large on Digital Affairs, Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other panellists at Minister Teo’s panel session included Mr Amandeep Gill, Secretary General’s Envoy for Technology, United Nations; Prof. Dr. Urs Gasser, Professor of Public Policy, Governance, and Innovative Technology, Technical University of Munich; and Mr Florian Breger, Vice President Government Global Industry Team, IBM Technology.