Governing AI in ASEAN: Ensuring Innovative Technologies are a Force for Good

On 4 June 2024, the Tech for Good Institute moderated a panel discussion at the 11th ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Dialogue. The dialogue centred on the importance of regulatory frameworks for AI development and deployment as well as role of governments in promoting responsible AI Practices.
From left to right: Dr Ming Tan, Founding Executive Director, Tech for Good Institute; Dr. Lili Yan Ing, Senior Economist, ERIA; Fabian Bigar, Chief Executive Officer, MyDigital Malaysia; Dr. Nyoman Adhiarna, Secretary of Directorate-General, Informatics Applications, Ministry of Communications and Informatics (Kominfo); Alex Högback, Project Manager, International Telecommunication Union

The adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) across Southeast Asia is a monumental development that holds immense promise and potential risks. AI’s productivity value is expected to provide a staggering 10 to 18 percent GDP uplift across the region by 2030, with estimates suggesting that AI could add a remarkable $1 trillion to ASEAN’s GDP by the same year. However, amidst the opportunities presented by AI to the ASEAN digital landscape, there are also significant risks that cannot be ignored, such as disinformation, misinformation, cybersecurity attacks, deep fakes, and more.

Recognising the need for responsible AI development and deployment, ASEAN recently endorsed the ASEAN Guide on AI Governance and Ethics at the 4th ASEAN Digital Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore. This guide, which includes recommendations at both national and regional levels, serves as a practical resource for organisations in the region that wish to design, develop, and deploy traditional AI technologies in commercial and non-military or dual-use applications.

In line with ASEAN’s progressive move towards ensuring responsible AI practices in the region, distinguished experts on the panel provided valuable insights on leveraging opportunities and addressing challenges related to AI governance through effective policy tools, robust regulatory frameworks for AI development and deployment, and a clear definition of the role of governments in driving responsible AI practices within the ASEAN region and across jurisdictions.


Moderator and Panellists

  • Dr Ming Tan, Founding Executive Director, Tech for Good Institute
  • Alex Högback, Project Manager, International Telecommunication Union
  • Lili Yan Ing, Senior Economist, ERIA
  • Nyoman Adhiarna, Secretary of Directorate-General, Informatics Applications, Ministry of Communications and Informatics (Kominfo)
  • Fabian Bigar, Chief Executive Officer, MyDigital Malaysia


Key takeaways:

1. ASEAN needs to enhance digital ecosystem governance to fully harness the productivity potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the region.

 By strategically leveraging these advanced solutions, the quality and efficiency of critical sectors like information and communications technology (ICT), logistics, and inventory management can be significantly enhanced. Moreover, AI-powered optimisation of the supply chain can improve market efficiency through seamless matching of producers, distributors, suppliers, and consumers, ultimately driving down production and labour costs while boosting competitiveness. To fully harness AI’s transformative potential, ASEAN Member States (AMS) must focus on several key enabling factors. First, robust investments in upgrading ICT infrastructure are crucial, providing a foundation for seamless integration and scalability of AI solutions across industries and borders. Additionally, enacting comprehensive data privacy and cybersecurity regulations is essential to foster trust among stakeholders, safeguard sensitive information, and mitigate risks associated with AI adoption. Lastly, AMS must cultivate a nurturing environment for businesses, especially in AI and technology sectors, to thrive and innovate.


2. As the region rapidly embraces AI adoption, ensuring inclusive and equitable AI is paramount.

Southeast Asia is incredibly diverse, with over 670 million people spanning different cultures, ethnicities, languages, and socio-economic backgrounds. This rich diversity is a strength, but it also means that AI systems trained on limited or skewed data could perpetuate biases and discrimination against certain groups. For AI to truly benefit all of ASEAN’s people, it must be developed and deployed in an inclusive and equitable manner. AI models and datasets need to be representative of the region’s diversity to prevent exclusion or unfair treatment based on gender, race, age, disabilities or other characteristics. This approach fosters diversity and inclusion in AI development and deployment to mitigate bias and ensure fit-for-purpose solutions that cater to the unique needs of the different communities.

The region’s digital divide must be addressed to prevent the AI revolution from widening existing inequalities. ASEAN Member States need to prioritise nurturing AI talent and upskilling their workforce. This requires creating robust educational frameworks and professional training programs to ensure that labour forces are equipped with necessary digital and algorithmic literacy skills. Additionally, responsible AI uptake should be promoted across all industries, not just digital-native firms. Addressing challenges like inadequate infrastructure, skill gaps, and scale limitations is crucial, especially in sectors like agriculture and fisheries, where AI’s potential remains largely untapped.


3. ASEAN Member States (AMS) need to institutionalise AI Governance to not only promote responsible AI adoption but ensure sustainable development in the region.

ASEAN has proactively recognised the importance of regulating the rapidly evolving artificial intelligence (AI) landscape and taken commendable initial steps to promote responsible AI practices. The recently endorsed ASEAN Guide on AI Governance and Ethics, along with the introduction of light-touch regulations, demonstrates the region’s commitment to this cause. The current flexible approaches, including voluntary recommendations and guidelines, are crucial in managing the challenges posed by the varying digital capabilities, regulatory maturity, and institutional frameworks across ASEAN member states. However, as AI technologies continue to advance at an unprecedented pace, there is a growing consensus on the need to institutionalise these efforts to ensure long-term effectiveness and widespread adoption of responsible AI practices. While voluntary frameworks serve as a starting point, robust and enforceable governance frameworks are becoming increasingly vital to drive tangible change and accountability.

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Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.

 

Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management. Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.

 

As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.