The Face Value Of Artificial Intelligence
HWM Singapore|April 2020
With Singapore doubling down on its Smart Nation goals, artificial intelligence (AI) has taken centre-stage of socio-economical development, especially with these uncertain times ahead of us.
Liu Hongzuo
Understanding what AI can or cannot do for us is a critical step towards uplifting our economy and its people. Is AI our future, or is it just a buzzword thrown around to get people and businesses excited? Is there more value to AI technologies we are familiar with, such as facial recognition? Will AI ever be abused in Singapore?

We spoke to Dr Fanglin Wang, the Head of Computer Vision at ADVANCE.AI, on his thoughts around Singapore’s AI journey, AI itself in its various manifestations, and the possible misuse of such technologies.

Is facial recognition underutilised in Singapore?

Dr. Fanglin Wang: Facial recognition technology has already been part of daily life for almost a decade. It’s widely used in the algorithms in our smartphone cameras. In Singapore, cameras have been installed at public housing, hawker centres, and major train and bus stops since 2012 for security purposes.

Social networks can be considered to be the world’s largest facial recognition databases today when you consider the amount of photos uploaded to these platforms. Mobile banking applications use facial identification to verify customer log-ins, and you also see this technology at airports and border checkpoints.

That said, our broad use of facial recognition in Singapore still cannot compare to China, where facial recognition technology is a way of life. In China, facial recognition technology scans people in public. It monitors errant behaviour, which is then used to build a national “social credit system”. Disobeying traffic rules, for example, can impact loan scores or ability to rent apartments. Ultimately, every country needs to find the right balance between convenience and privacy, and that scale will move as consumers get more familiar with the technology.

What are the barriers and enablers for Singaporeans to embrace AI-based technologies?

Dr. Fanglin Wang: Privacy concerns are always top of mind. Am I constantly monitored? How is my data being stored, collected, and used? How secure is the data? These are all valid concerns, and we need to move cautiously.

As mentioned earlier, facial recognition in China is a way of life, and people are accustomed to the technology in every facet of their lives. In contrast, when Google launched the Glass in the US and it was being used to record people in restaurant settings, people got very upset; the public pushed back, and the product failed to take off.

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