AI Governance in Southeast Asia: Challenges and Opportunites

Dr. Jun-E Tan, Independent Researcher

What I will cover

  • About the project
  • AI in context
  • AI governance in Southeast Asia

About the project

  • Commissioned by EngageMedia
  • Anticipated audience: civil society actors who are interested in the topic of AI governance
  • Desk research and interviews (16 respondents - lawyers, academics, activists, industry experts)
  • Data collection period: August - Nov 2020

Four waves of AI development

  • Internet AI
  • Business AI
  • Perception AI
  • Autonomous AI


(Lee, 2018)

Current AI landscape in SEA

  • Internet users
    • Internet penetration: 66.04% in June 2020, from 25% in 2014. 87.28% of those online use Facebook
    • By 2019, the number of Southeast Asians online had exceeded numbers in Northern America or Western Europe
    • A lot of time spent online
    • E-commerce is firmly established. Social media, gaming are other popular activities online
    • Increasingly digitally savvy and aware of digital harms

Current AI landscape in SEA

  • State of the industry
    • As of 2019, 14 unicorn startups (Singapore (7), Indonesia (5), Vietnam (1), Philippines(1))
    • AI adoption within the industry is at a nascent stage, lagging two to three years behind more advanced countries
    • Most Southeast Asian countries invested less than $0.50 per capita on AI solutions in 2019, with the notable exception of Singapore which invested $68 per capita

Current AI landscape in SEA

  • Government initiatives
    • Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam all have AI policies and initiatives
    • Great disparity between government readiness to use AI for public service delivery

Government AI Readiness Index (2020)

Current AI landscape in SEA

  • Government initiatives

Adapted from the AI Global Surveillance Index (2019)

Benefits of AI for the Region

  • What are our priorities in the usage of AI technologies, and what is the logic of implementation?

  • What are the pre-requisites to enjoying the benefits of AI?

  • Who benefits exactly from the usage of AI systems?

Types of AI Security Risks

Newman (2019)

Existing challenges within the region

  • Lack of technical capacity and digital literacy
  • Regimes leaning towards authoritarianism
  • Weak institutional frameworks
  • Availability of quality data
  • Fault lines along religious, racial, and other cultural sensitivities

Framework used for discussion:

A layered model for AI governance (Gasser & Almeida, 2017)

AI Governance in SEA

Challenges of AI governance in SEA

  1. Focus of governance is on rapid adoption and innovation, rather than checks and balances
  2. Unclear use cases implicate on data governance
  3. International norms need to be adapted for local governance - e.g. GDPR
  4. SEA is under-represented in international standards setting
  5. SEA countries do not have a strong regional voice
  6. State capacity to govern AI technologies is low on average
  7. Meaningful public participation in AI governance is difficult - both from top-down, bottom-up perspectives


  1. Anchor AI governance in its societal and application contexts
  2. Build constitutionality around AI and data governance
  3. Consider multiple levels and sectors of policymaking
  4. Enable whole-of-society participation in AI governance

  5. Consider existing regulatory frameworks and processes that may be used for AI governance
  6. Focus on data governance to reduce AI harms and increase AI benefits

Ways forward for civil society

  1. Increase awareness and participation of civil society in AI governance
  2. Build capacity to engage in AI governance (on AI, and on governance processes)
  3. Form strategic networks and collaborations
  4. Conduct more advocacy-based research and documentation on AI applications in SEA
  5. Leverage on existing capacities on human rights and community work

Thank you :)

Contact me at

AI Governance in Southeast Asia

By Jun-E Tan

AI Governance in Southeast Asia

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