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Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on 7 major tech trends and Singapore’s regulatory approach

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on 7 major tech trends and Singapore’s regulatory approach

At a legal technology conference held in Singapore,
Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation initiative Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
iterated Singapore’s regulatory approach to major technology trends.

Minister Balakrishnan acknowledged that change is being
accelerated by technology. He iterated 7 major trends happening in the tech
space that are affecting policy and regulations.

7 major tech trends

The 7 major tech trends are: (1) declining marginal cost of
replicating, storing and transmitting information, (2) declining marginal cost
of computing, (3) accelerated clock speed of technology, (4) wide deployment of
sensors leading to explosion of data, (5) increasing capacity to analyse data,
(6) disruption caused by robotics, and (7) progress in artificial intelligence
(AI).

According to Minister, these 7 emerging technology trend
“interact and catalyse virtual cycles, feeding and accelerating one another”.

As marginal costs of information transmission and storage,
as well as computing are “trending to zero”, the phenomena leads to the
explosion of pervasive and cheap sensors deployed on people. Minister gave handphones
as an example of sensors in monitor movements with dedicated processor.

The
explosion of sensors implies the explosion of data collected by the sensors.
With the vast volume of data collected, there is increasing need for us to
enhance the capacity to analyse data. As such, the Singapore Government aggregates
data in a machine-readable format and make such data available through Data.gov.sg, Singapore’s one-stop portal to its
publicly-available datasets from 70 public agencies. At the same time, the
declining computing cost also means data can be more effectively mined and
analysed for insights.

These
advancements also enable much progress in robotics and the development of AI.
With the price of robotics components also trending to zero, robotics is being
widely adopted and are disrupting production chains. At the same time, AI has
evolved from played simple games like tic-tac-toe to more complicated game like
Go, as the “total number of permutations being performed becomes much larger”,

Minister
also noted that the world is experience an accelerated technology clock speed.
In the past, inventions and breakthroughs take much longer, sometimes decades,
until they reach a state of mass adoption. However, today, technologies only
take a few years to “disrupt market and cause regulatory attention”. It begs
the question of whether regulatory clock speed is keeping up with the
accelerated technology clock speed.

Implications

With
all these technology trends interacting with and reinforcing one another,
progress in technology has political and socio-economic implications.

While
technology increases productivity, it is also replacing humans in perform
certain tasks. According to Minister, this has resulted in much “middle-class
angst” as the middle class feels squeezed due to the stagnation in wage and
mobility.

This
middle-class angst is also translated into politics as some countries are
experiencing a loss in faith in free trade. These countries resort to “building
walls, rather than recognising the real issue is technology and the need to
prepare people with relevant skills”.

At
the same time, with the widespread use of social media, societies found
themselves facing the challenge of fake news as they tend to spread faster than
facts. Minister said that although information transmitted might not be out of
bad intention, social media feeds our innate desire to search for unique
identity and values.

However,
the danger of social media lies in what Minister called the “proliferation of
echo chambers” – how our preference determines what information we get, causing
a vicious cycle. In this, Minister gave the example of self-radicalisation of
people who did not even leave the country to join radical groups. In safeguarding
harmony and order in human social life, Minister stated that “if in real life
we need norms and regulations, same applies to the social media space”.

Singapore’s regulatory approach to emerging
technology

“Technology
revolution is inevitable. It is foolish to stand in the way of progress and
pretend that there is no downside or need for regulation”, said Minister
Balakrishnan.

Minister
Balakrishnan then outlined Singapore’s regulatory approach given the
regulatory, political, legal implications of technology to the society.

To
begin with, Singapore Government uses regulatory sandbox to deal with emerging
technology.

The
purpose of having regulatory sandbox is to create a safe space for trials and
experimentation. Here, Minister gave the example of regulatory sandbox that the
Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) set
up for fintech
in 2015, the Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s amendments to
the Road Traffic Act (RTA) to allow for autonomous vehicles (AV) testing, as
well as the Personal
Data Protection Commission
(PDPC) allowing data sharing arrangements to be
exempted from certain obligations on a case-by-case basis.

Minister also said that the Government adopts the approach
of “masterly inactivity” as technology emerges. By “masterly inactivity”,
Minister explained that the Government stay proactive in keeping itself updates
on latest developments, plan for its actions, all without “getting in the way
of progress or stifling innovation”. He gave the example of how MAS is not
regulating crypto tokens directly, but is focused on regulating associated
activities, evaluate risks, and not stifling innovation.

Minister said the “slowness of regulatory clock speed” has
to be addressed as the current “pace of progress means regulation is obsolete
by the time they are published”. He stated that tech progress is imposing
challenges as it is only possible to fully assess its implication only when technology
is deployed in real life.

In conclusion, Minister called for regulations
that are made with collective and multidisciplinary effort. Such regulatory
responses have to be “iterative”, adopt “sufficient precaution to deal with
potential harm”, and formulated in “high speed”.

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