Singapore first expressed its ambition to be a smart nation in November 2014.
At the launch of this initiative, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described the smart nation as a nation in which “we can create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagine possible.”
Essentially, Singapore’s smart nation journey strives to transform Singapore through technology.
A smart nation takes full advantage of technology with the goal of improving the lives of citizens, creating more opportunities, and building stronger communities.
Today, developments in digital technology are advancing rapidly 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 we live and work.
A smart nation is an integral part of Singapore’s next nation-building phase and presents opportunities to enhance its strengths, overcome national challenges and physical limits, and build new sources of comparative advantage.
To continue to prosper and remain relevant, Singapore must embrace digitization and the benefits it brings.
So what would a smart nation look like?
In a smart nation, we will see a transformation in key domains: health, transportation, urban solutions, finance, and education.
Our health care system will go beyond medical care to health as Singaporeans will be better equipped and empowered to take care of their own health.
Health services, where needed, will be delivered efficiently. Singaporeans are already using wearable devices or smartphones to monitor their health and activities, and this data can empower people and inform service delivery.
Image credit: Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS)
Some national projects in this area: HealthHub, telehealth, assistive technology and robotics in health care
Data analytics, smart systems and autonomous vehicles are key solutions for the future of transportation planning and operations.
Our roads and transportation system will be optimized, making traffic smoother, more comfortable and reliable public transportation, and cleaner air with less need for private cars.
Image credit: Ministry of Transport
Some national projects in this area: autonomous vehicles, payment of contactless fares for public transport, open data and analysis for urban transport.
3. Urban solutions
Our houses and farms will be safer, more comfortable and more sustainable. The use of smart sensors and systems will improve the efficiency of municipal services, save energy and ensure the sustainable use of resources.
PUB to install 300,000 smart water meters by 2023 / Image Credit: PUB
Some national projects under this: Automated Meter Reading Test (AMR) to make water use data easily accessible to consumers from tap to app, drones to inspect dengue hot spots, OneService app to provide a common platform for the public to report municipal issues to public agencies
Singapore will continue to be a leading regional and global financial center, driven by financial institutions easily adopting fintech solutions for better customer service, greater efficiency in trade finance, enhanced supervision and reduced compliance cost.
Digital technology opens a new field of autonomous and collaborative learning. The relationships between students, teachers, and parents, as well as the capabilities of the physical infrastructure, are increased to create a holistic environment conducive to effective learning.
Routine and repetitive tasks are also automated to help educators focus on the work that matters. In the long term, Singapore needs to rethink its philosophies, content and learning modality as technology evolves.
A smart nation will also involve all people and organizations, taking steps to learn and adopt digital technologies.
Singapore has developed mutually reinforcing plans to build a digital economy, a digital government and a digital society.
Digital Government Project / Image Credit: Smart Nation and Digital Government Office
This means that every industry, business and government agency has to step up its digitization efforts to drive a national movement powered by a society of digitally prepared citizens and communities.
This widespread transformation is exemplified through major national projects, in areas such as digital infrastructure and service provision, and involving the public, private, and personal sectors.
Where do we stand among other countries in the smart nation race?
According to the Smart cities indexSingapore was ranked as the world’s number one smart city for two consecutive years (2019 and 2020).
Despite our stellar performance, much remains to be done to maintain our position as the world’s number one smart city.
Smart City Initiatives Around the World / Image Credit: Singapore Computer Society
In Helsinki, one of the initiatives currently being explored is smart household waste management.
The refrigerators are equipped with smart sensors that monitor the expiration dates of food. Then, owners will be notified when the expiration date is approaching and given suggestions on how to use the food instead of throwing it away.
In Singapore, food waste constitutes one of the largest waste streams, generating more than 744,000 tons in 2019 only. In a move towards greater sustainability, Singapore should consider such digitization solutions in our upcoming smart city projects to better manage our country’s food waste.
Meanwhile, Zurich’s multi-functional smart street lamps are designed to provide a variety of benefits and services. It powers electric cars, collects environmental data, records traffic flow, measures the fill level of a trash can, identifies empty parking spaces, and provides public WiFi.
While smart lighting is not a new concept for Singapore, our capabilities are limited to optimizing lighting use and understanding human trafficking trends.
We are moving at a rapid pace, but we are not there yet
To achieve a smart nation, we start from a position of strength, relying on Singapore’s early investments in connectivity technology and infrastructure, and strong institutions that are ready to seize these opportunities.
Singaporeans are also digitally literate and have a wealth of talents that do well in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) 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 age may not always be revolutionary in the short term, but we can expect fundamental changes in society and the economy in the coming decades.
Beyond fulfilling the future we can envision, Singapore must continue to advance in this fast-moving space, to continually innovate and transform, and strengthen its capabilities and expertise to prepare for the unknown.
We can secure our future by strengthening the link between academia, industry and government, placing strategic bets on cutting-edge technologies and forming strong relationships with the international community.
At its core, the smart nation is about empowering its people. Understandably, there are some fears and tensions about technology destabilizing livelihoods, increasing costs, and increasing vulnerabilities.
However, if we identify these challenges and address them head-on, technology can create better jobs and business opportunities, more security, and improved livelihoods.
Featured Image Credit: Siemens