Singapore first expressed its ambition to be a smart nation back in November 2014.
At the launch of this initiative, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described smart nation as a nation where “we can create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagined possible.”
Essentially, Singapore’s smart nation journey endeavours to transform Singapore through technology.
A smart nation harnesses technology to the fullest with the aim of improving the lives of citizens, creating more opportunities and building stronger communities.
Today, developments in digital technology are rapidly advancing and the next frontier of technologies — big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things, robotics and blockchain — will fundamentally transform the global economy and change the way we live and work.
A smart nation is integral to Singapore’s next phase of nation building and it presents opportunities to enhance its strengths, overcome national challenges and physical limits, and build new sources of comparative advantage.
In order to continue to prosper and stay relevant, Singapore must embrace digitalisation and the benefits it brings.
So what would a smart nation look like?
In a smart nation, we will see transformation in key domains: health, transport, urban solutions, finance and education.
Our healthcare system will move beyond healthcare to health, as Singaporeans will be better equipped and empowered to take care of their own health.
Healthcare services, where they are needed, will be delivered efficiently. Singaporeans are already using wearable devices or smartphones to monitor their health and activities, and this data can empower individuals and inform service delivery.
Some national projects under this: HealthHub, telehealth, assistive technology and robotics in healthcare
Data analytics, smart systems and autonomous vehicles are key solutions for the future of transport planning and operations.
Our roads and transport system will be optimised, making traffic smoother, public transport more comfortable and reliable, and the air cleaner with less need for private cars.
Some national projects under this: Autonomous vehicles, contactless fare payment for public transport, open data and analytics for urban transportation
3. Urban Solutions
Our homes and estates will be safer, more comfortable and more sustainable. The use of sensors and smart systems will improve the effectiveness of municipal services, save energy and ensure sustainable use of resources.
Some national projects under this: Automated Meter Reading (AMR) trial to make water usage data readily accessible for consumers from tap to app, drones to survey dengue hotspots, OneService app to provide a common platform for the public to report municipal issues across public agencies
Singapore will continue to be a leading regional and global financial hub, powered by financial institutions that readily adopt fintech solutions for better customer service, greater efficiencies in trade finance, strengthened supervision and reduced compliance cost.
Digital technology unlocks a new realm of self-directed and collaborative learning. Relationships between students, teachers and parents, as well as capabilities of the physical infrastructure are augmented to create a holistic and conducive environment for effective learning.
Routine and repetitive tasks are also automated to help educators focus on the work that matters. In the long run, Singapore needs to rethink its philosophies, content and modality of learning as technology evolves.
A smart nation will also involve every person and organisation, taking action to learn about and adopt digital technologies.
Singapore has actually laid out mutually-reinforcing plans to build a digital economy, digital government, and digital society.
This means every industry, business and government agency has to step up to accelerate its digitalisation efforts to drive a whole-of-nation movement powered by a society of digitally ready citizens and communities.
This widespread transformation is exemplified through major national projects, in areas such as digital infrastructure and service delivery, and involving the public, private and people sectors.
Where do we stand among other countries in the smart nation race?
According to the Smart City Index, Singapore was ranked the number one smart city in the world for two consecutive years (2019 and 2020).
Despite our stellar performance, there is still much that can be done to maintain our position as the number one smart city in the world.
In Helsinki, one of the initiatives currently being explored is smart waste management in homes.
Refrigerators are equipped with smart sensors that monitor food expiration dates. Homeowners will then be notified when the expiration date is nearing and be provided with suggestions on ways to use the food instead of disposing of it.
In Singapore, food waste makes up one of the largest waste streams, generating over 744,000 tonnes in 2019 alone. In a move toward greater sustainability, Singapore should consider such digitisation solutions in our upcoming smart town projects to better manage our country’s food waste.
Meanwhile, the multi-functional smart streetlights in Zurich are designed to provide an array of benefits and services. It supplies power to electric cars, collect environmental data, record traffic flow, measures the fullness of a trash can, identifies empty parking spaces, and provides public WiFi.
While smart lighting is not a new concept to Singapore, our capabilities are limited to optimising lighting usage and understanding human traffic trends.
We’re moving at a fast pace, but not there yet
To achieve smart nation, we start from a position of strength, riding on Singapore’s early investments in technology and connectivity infrastructure, and strong institutions that are ready to seize these opportunities.
Singaporeans are also digitally literate, and it has a strong pool of talent who perform well in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines.
Although Singapore is progressing well, we are still in the early days of the digital revolution and our smart nation initiative.
The effects of this digital era may not always be revolutionary in the short term, but we can expect fundamental changes to society and economy in the decades to come.
Beyond delivering on the future we can foresee, Singapore must continue to push ahead in this fast-moving space, to continually innovate and transform itself, and strengthen its capabilities and expertise so that we are prepared for the unknown.
We can secure our future by strengthening the nexus between academia, industry and government, making strategic bets in frontier technologies, and forming strong relationships with the international community.
At its core, smart nation is about empowering its people. Understandably, there might be some fears and tensions about technology destabilising livelihoods, raising costs and increasing vulnerabilities.
However, if we identify these challenges and tackle them head-on, technology can result in better jobs and business opportunities, more security and improvement of livelihoods.
Featured Image Credit: Siemens