Singapore emphasizes AI, cyber security as defense, private sector priority

Singapore emphasizes AI, cyber security as defense, private sector priority

Tom Abke

Singapore’s defense officials are helping the next generation to flourish in the fields of cyber security and artificial intelligence (AI) by organizing workshops and competitions to sharpen their skills.

That was the goal of BrainHack 2019, which was organized by the government’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) in cooperation with the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).

“DSTA, together with MINDEF, recognizes the potential that AI and cyber security provide and are committed to developing these capabilities further,” Heng Chee, Singapore’s senior minister of state for defence, said during the BrainHack award ceremony on June 14, 2019, at Singapore’s Expo Center. “Through events like BrainHack, we hope to inspire talented individuals with a passion for technology to develop and hone their skills and, perhaps one day, contribute to enhancing existing capabilities as well.”

MINDEF observers paid particular attention to a winning team of university students who developed an AI model to recognize human hand and body gestures. Team member Wong Jun Long told MINDEF’s Pioneer magazine the team’s AI model could potentially detect intruders and other unlawful behavior, which could benefit private security forces.

Potential uses in the defense industry include enhancing base security and optimizing soldier fitness, DSTA said in a news release.

Wong’s team of four from the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, along with others competing in the same category, visited DSTA for “AI upskilling workshops” prior to the competition June 3-4, 2019. About 270 students learned to “set up and train deep learning models and methods to improve the accuracy of image classification algorithms,” the agency observed.

Other BrainHack teams competed to build cyber security solutions for a model smart city, which faced the types of hypothetical threats that could challenge Singapore, such as a situation in which critical infrastructure becomes increasingly networked and the internet of things becomes widely adopted.

“Participants were tasked to complete a mix of ‘red team’ challenges, which required them to actively detect and test vulnerabilities,” reported DTSA, “and ‘blue team’ challenges, which focused more on analytical skills such as incident response, digital forensics or security risk auditing.”

Jackie Lee, a student at the National University of Singapore, was part of a winning team involved in protecting the model city through cyber security. Lee and his fellow participants learned cyber security fundamentals May 8-28, 2019, by studying online with DTSA. A field of 470 finalists qualified to compete in implementing solutions for the threatened model city.

“The [model city] infrastructure is a demo of how the real world could be simulated,” Lee said. “But in the real world, there is more complex technology behind it. It gave us a preview on how we should better appreciate cyber security and enhance the protection of these systems.”

BrainHack involved more than 1,500 students from Singapore’s high schools and universities. The yearly event is an expansion of a program that originated in 2012, originally focused on cyber security. The AI component was added this year.

“We want BrainHack to be the springboard to nurture the next generation of tech warriors for our defense and also to contribute to Singapore beyond defense,” DSTA Chief Executive Tan Peng Yam said.

BrainHack also included a technology showcase, which exposed participants and visitors to interactive exhibits from DSTA and industry partners such as Amazon and IBM demonstrating the power and functionality of AI and cyber security. Drones and self-driving ground vehicles using AI applications were featured in an exhibit with an e-sports theme.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.