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Credit: EmTech Asia

Credit: EmTech Asia

IMDA shares vision to build a community of innovation in Singapore at emerging tech conference

Mr Zee Kin Yeong, Assistant Chief Executive of Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) of Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) kickstarted the two-day EmTech Asia conference 2018, by sharing Singapore’s vision in building a community of innovation.

Mr Yeong admitted that although technology advancement imposes challenges to governments and regulators, technology remains a solution to emerging challenges, such as aging population and urbanisation, and their implications on healthcare, transport, food and energy.

In his speech on the role of IMDA in encouraging innovation and supporting the ecosystem, Mr Yeong outlined three key elements that Singapore has to offer: (1) Space, (2) Room, and (3) Opportunity.

Space for collaborations of the like-minded

According to Mr Yeong, Singapore has a good history and track record in building hubs. The island-state is a maritime hub. A chemical logistics hub was created with the reclamation of the Jurong Island in the 1990s, followed by the development of the biomedical research hub at Biopolis in the 2000s and the subsequent Fusionopolis and Mediapolis. These hubs have developed into vibrant communities that serve targeted industries and attracted renowned companies to the island-state.

Just last week, as reported earlier, IMDA announced the masterplan for Punggol Digital District (PDD) which aims to create a new home for digital economy in Singapore. The PDD will see the co-sharing of Punggol between IT companies, cybersecurity firms and a Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) campus that nurtures IT talents.

Mr Yeong believes that these synergetic relationships between innovators and entrepreneurs will in turn encourage the formation of start-ups. Acknowledging that innovators mutually benefit from exchange of ideas and their needs for mentorship and access to resources, IMDA has been building hubs for start-ups across the island. He cited the examples of the newly-created Fintech start-up hub, Lattice 80 (now renamed 80RR) and the well-known Block 71 as some of the initiatives supported by IMDA.

Other IMDA facilities that encourage collaborations of the like-minded include Pixel Lab and Pixel Studio which are innovation spaces that provide innovators opportunities to work together with corporate partners.

Room to push boundaries and to experiment

Mr Yeong noted that data is being generated and used in many new ways and for many purposes. As such, he highlighted the role of IMDA in both protecting and building confidence among citizens, as well as encouraging innovations and companies that use data to benefit the public.

Protecting individuals was named one of many uses of data. Using an example of bank alerts, he explained that monitoring of credit card use could help detect and prevent fraud. Using DBS as an example, he shared that data analytics could help improve client experience. For example, understanding that Singaporeans prefer to use mint notes for the auspicious practice of giving red packets, or ang baos, during Chinese New Year, DBS would tap on its data analytics capabilities to stock up bank notes at branches or ATM machines with the highest foot traffic, to alleviate high demand and long waiting time.

As the Assistant Chief Executive of IMDA and Deputy Commissioner of PDPC [1], Mr Yeong also revealed the organisation’s work in reviewing the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). It is understood that consultation has started. Although the PDPA was only introduced 5 years ago, Mr Yeong stated that the Act must be kept updated to ensure that citizens and their personal data are sufficiently protected. This is because of the change in landscape, as today personal data is not just ‘declared’ data given by people consciously. Personal data also includes data generated through mobile activity, from sensors.

Opportunity for innovators to meet and learn

The availability and access to talents is among the top priority of businesses. In creating a pool of IT professionals, IMDA has been supporting initiatives such as: (1) the establishment of AI Singapore which aims at unlocking the potential of AI experts and talents who currently reside in various research institutes for industrial applications, (2) TechSkills Accelerator, a SkillsFuture programme to upskill local workforce to meet the challenges of a fast-moving digital landscape, and (3) the AI Apprenticeship Programme which aims to nurture 200 IT professionals in 3 years through apprenticeships at established IT corporations.

All these measures seek to build a pool of IT professionals in Singapore. In the long run, Singapore aims to provide fertile ground for established corporates from all over the world, while at the same time, upskilling local talents.

When asked about the development of industrial clusters in Singapore, including those for start-ups and digital economy, Mr Yeong believes that it illustrates the close partnership between the Singapore Government and businesses, as the two sectors collaborate to identify gaps and support each other’s development needs. Such phenomenon is also a result of Singapore’s natural limitation as a small city-state with limited space.

Addressing the concerns about whether AI will take jobs or create jobs, Mr Yeong saw AI as an engine of growth, as well as a continuum of business intelligence. He believed that the technology can be used for good by improving services, improving the way we work, integrating and adding new features to products.

On the issue of privacy, it was noted that age groups differ in their perceptions towards privacy and data protection; the older generation seems to be more concerned about data protection, while the millennials are open to providing data in exchange of access to free or new technological products or services. Mr Yeong remarked that Singapore citizens tend to trust the Government more in data protection, as compared to their trust in the private sector. This is partly because Singapore is constantly improving its data protection practice. He re-iterated that the current review of the PDPA is to deal with new ways of data generation and use. The updated PDPA will improve data protection as well as facilitate companies that use data for good purposes that benefit the consumers.

IMDA is a host partner of EmTech Asia 2018 in Singapore. EmTech Asia is an annual conference that features emerging technology. This year’s themes include smart cities, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, quantum computing, space and aerospace innovations.

[1] Last year, OpenGov interviewed Mr Yeong in his capacity as Deputy Commissioner of PDPC to learn how PDPC is strengthening the data protection ecosystem in Singapore.

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