The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has released the ASEAN Guide on AI Governance and Ethics, providing guidance to organisations on the design, development and deployment on traditional AI technologies and including national- and regional-level recommendations for policymakers. 

The ASEAN Guide has been “collaboratively developed” by ASEAN Member States but is not legally binding. While adoption is voluntary, ASEAN notes that the ASEAN Guide “can help organisations build trust among stakeholders and the public” and “align their practices with international standards and best practices”. We take a look at some of the key features and compare and contrast to the Singapore equivalent.

AI Governance Framework

The ASEAN Guide contains an AI Governance Framework which provides guidance to organisations to navigate the risks and ethical issues surrounding AI. It is centred around seven guiding principles: (1) transparency and explainability, (2) fairness and equity, (3) security and safety, (4) robustness and reliability, (5) human-centricity, (6) privacy and data governance, and (7) accountability and integrity. 

The ASEAN Framework has four areas of focus: (1) internal governance structures and measures, (2) determining the level of human involvement in AI-augmented decision-making, (3) operations management, and (4) stakeholder interaction and communication.

Comparison to the Singapore Framework

The guidance contained in the ASEAN Framework is in line with the Singapore Model Artificial Intelligence Governance Framework (2nded) published in 2020. Both frameworks share the same core components and emphasise the importance of a risk-based approach whereby the impact of AI on its users dictates the level of human oversight over the technology. 

Both frameworks also emphasise the importance of flexibility, acknowledging the diverse digital landscapes of organisations and ASEAN Member States. 

ASEAN faces a challenge in that some of its Member States have so far made more progress in developing domestic AI policy compared to others. In addition, the maturity of national law relating to topics relevant to the regulation of AI - such as data protection and cybersecurity - also varies between Member States. As such, the ASEAN Framework sets out principles and components that can be tailored to the requirements of Member States. 

Similarly the Singapore Framework invites organisations to adapt the guidance to individual operational needs. 

While the substance of both frameworks is similar, each guide also contains unique features. For example, the ASEAN Framework sets out key questions that an organisation may need to consider in each stage of the AI System Lifecycle. As such, it may be useful for organisations to refer to both guides when considering its approach to the adoption of AI.  

Recommendations for Policymakers

The ASEAN Guide also includes national- and regional-level recommendations for policymakers. At a national level, it calls for the nurturing of AI talent, investment in AI R&D, and raising public awareness of the impact of AI on society. 

While the Singapore Framework is targeted towards organisations, it also underlines the importance of a human-centric AI ethos that fosters innovation and sustains public trust. 

Future developments - working group

As a regional-level recommendation, the ASEAN Guide calls for the establishment of a new ASEAN Working Group on AI Governance to drive and oversee the implementation of AI governance regimes in the region. 

While the ASEAN Framework provides flexible guidelines, the working group could serve as an arena for ASEAN countries to collaborate and foster greater alignment on AI issues. This may include future legislation to address important legal challenges posed by AI, including those relating to legal liability, intellectual property rights and data-related issues.   

A living document

ASEAN has described the guide as a “living document” which will be periodically updated to keep pace with emerging AI trends and regulations. While the current document focuses on traditional AI, ASEAN has noted the unique opportunities and risks posed by generative AI. 

As a regional-level recommendation, ASEAN has called for the adaptation of the guide to address the governance of generative AI. This reflects the growing importance placed by policymakers on this issue, demonstrated in Singapore by the recent publication of the proposed Model AI Governance Framework for Generative AI.  

Opportunity for regional harmonisation

The ASEAN Guide reflects ASEAN’s goal of fostering intergovernmental cooperation between its Member States and aligning its members on key issues. While the current guidance provides a flexible framework for organisations and policymakers, the establishment of a working group may provide an opportunity for the greater harmonisation of AI policy in the region.