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Singapore shares early tips to help embrace AI

ANN/ THE STRAITS TIMES – Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan shared the takeaways from Singapore’s journey at a ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the ongoing United Nations General Assembly.

The meeting, which was convened to discuss artificial intelligence’s (AI) potential in speeding up attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was attended by delegates from the United States (US), Japan, Britain, Spain, Morocco and Kenya, as well as the world’s leading tech firms, including Google, Microsoft and IBM.

Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan at the United Nations General Assembly. PHOTO: ANN/THE STRAITS TIMES

Progress in meeting the SDGs – an end to poverty and hunger, and ensuring affordable energy and quality education systems by 2030 – has been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war.

But AI is a game changer. Speaking at the meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the world was on track to achieve just 12 per cent of the SDGs, but AI could advance progress on nearly 80 per cent of the SDGs and their targets. However, fears remain that in the absence of international norms to govern the use of AI, the technology could be abused to produce false information, reinforce bias and discrimination, and deepen inequities.

Singapore’s stance has been to embrace the potential of AI, Dr Balakrishnan said. Besides, the tiny city-state could hardly afford to sit on the sidelines, he added.

“Our attitude is that this is a big deal. This is transforming the means of production in the world. And for a little place like Singapore to be relevant, we had better get on the bandwagon.

“We can’t compete with Silicon Valley, but we can be a vital node which Silicon Valley needs, even as it spreads its web across the world.” So, Singapore is making use of AI while also building in safeguards, said the minister.

For example, the civil service uses large language models that are trained on large amounts of text data and are able to generate human-like text.

The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment uses AI models to prepare for extreme weather events, while the fish farming sector uses them to enhance biosafety and improve yield.

“We are just doing this and, if need be, doing it within sandboxes, because the only way to get on this bandwagon is to do and to learn from doing, and to learn from those mistakes. Fail quickly and improve it,” Dr Balakrishnan said.


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