2nd Abu Dhabi Smart Cities Summit
Keynote Address by Minister Josephine Teo at 2nd Abu Dhabi Smart Cities Summit
23 Nov 2021
Transforming Our Cities Through Technology
Your Excellency Falah Al Ahbabi,
Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Municipalities and Transport
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning and thank you for inviting me to the second edition of the Abu Dhabi Smart Cities Summit. It is an honour to be here today.
Let me first congratulate the UAE on your upcoming Golden Jubilee on 2 December. Since attaining independence in 1971, the UAE has made remarkable progress, and there is so much to celebrate on this joyous occasion.
Our cities share warm ties and similar visions of building a smart city to better the lives of our peoples. Although our cities are not exactly alike, there is much we can learn from one another. I hope my sharing today on Singapore’s experience in smart city development will be useful for Abu Dhabi as both cities forge ahead in our vision to become leading smart cities in the world.
What is a Smart City?
When we think of smart cities, we often think of advanced technologies in areas such as smart health, smart buildings, and smart transport.
But in building smart cities, we should always remember that it’s not just about using the latest technologies, but to make sure we solve real-world problems that our cities face, improve the lives of our citizens, and help our businesses thrive.
For my sharing today, I therefore wish to define a smart city not by the technology it uses but by whether it achieves the following outcomes:
One, Lived experience. A smart city should provide an excellent quality of life for its people.
Two, Resilience. A smart city should be able to respond nimbly to new challenges and unanticipated problems, thus enabling it to adapt and thrive.
Third, Sustainability. A smart city should deploy its resources in a way that manages its environmental footprint.
Let me elaborate.
First, a smart city should provide an excellent lived experience for its people and demonstrate how technology can lead to rapid improvements in quality of life. This is the basic requirement that all smart cities must meet, and which our citizens judge us primarily by.
A key technology enabler is having the right digital infrastructure. Like how physical infrastructure such as roads and utilities enable cities to function, digital infrastructure and utilities are the basic building blocks that enable cities to deploy technology quickly and efficiently.
What might make up such digital infrastructure and utilities?
First and foremost, digital identity. In Singapore, we use the National Digital Identity system, or Singpass. It provides identity assurance in Government and business transactions. With Singpass, one can even digitally sign insurance agreements or apply for bank accounts. Today, Singpass is used by 97% of Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents aged 15 and above, and facilitates about 300 million personal and corporate transactions every year.
Second, e-payments. In Singapore, we have PayNow. With PayNow, you only need to know the recipient’s mobile number to make bank transfers, regardless of which local bank he uses. We also launched one single QR code format, called SGQR, for merchants to receive e-payments. It minimises confusion for the merchants while allowing many banking solutions to compete and thrive.
Third, the cellular network. Our 5G standalone network is on track to roll out services very soon. This will not only bring faster speeds and higher reliability; but also allow new smart city applications to be introduced at near-zero latency. Imagine: service robots that can be controlled in near real-time!
Our significant investments in digital infrastructure and utilities have enabled both our public and private sectors to bring better services and added convenience to our people. Today, in Singapore, many – including me – will feel quite comfortable leaving our homes and going about our daily activities with just our smartphones in our hands.
A smart city must also be resilient.
The OECD defines resilient cities as cities that have the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for future shocks.
There is no more dramatic example than COVID-19, which took the world by surprise.
When COVID-19 hit Singapore’s shores in early 2020, we faced a myriad of challenges, such as the need for speed and accuracy in contact tracing.
To tackle this challenge, our engineers worked rapidly to develop and launch the SafeEntry and TraceTogether apps. In contact tracing, time is of the essence. The problem is that interviewing all COVID positive cases is a resource-intensive and time-consuming process. People also do not remember precisely who they have interacted with, and for how long.
With SafeEntry and TraceTogether, careful interviewing is supplemented with data. This has helped us to quickly identify and quarantine people who may have been exposed to the virus.
We have been actively updating these tools. For instance, now, it also shows one’s vaccination status and COVID test results.
Our investments in infrastructure, capabilities and engineering talents over the years have equipped us with the digital capabilities to respond quickly and flexibly to the pandemic. Such capabilities help to make a city stronger in the face of a crisis.
Finally, a smart city must embrace sustainability if it wants to thrive over the long term.
Cities need to take action to manage resources responsibly and combat the effects of climate change. This is why Singapore launched the Singapore Green Plan in February this year.
By using technologies such as AI and IoT, we can “do more with less”, and reduce our footprint on the environment.
In Singapore, we have the Smart Nation Sensor Platform, which integrates different types of sensors to improve municipal services, city-level operations, planning and security. For example, sensors allow us to store and predict the peak demand of renewable energies better.
Another area where technology can contribute is in urban mobility. Autonomous Vehicles, together with on-demand transport services and smart traffic lights, can help to achieve a ‘greener’ or more efficient transport system, by optimising road usage and traffic flow.
By investing in smart and green technologies now, Singapore aims to transform into a cleaner and more sustainable city.
As smart cities develop, it is important that we don’t do so in silos, but collaborate with one another.
Since 2007, Singapore and Abu Dhabi have regularly convened the Abu Dhabi-Singapore Joint Forum to exchange ideas and perspectives, and build new lines of cooperation between our two cities. On this note, Singapore would be happy to work with Abu Dhabi on interoperable and trusted digital infrastructure such as digital identity and e-payments.
There is also value in us exchanging perspectives on how emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence should be regulated. Many of these technologies are still experimental, and we can help each other understand some of the opportunities and challenges that come with developing and deploying them.
In closing, judicious planning and investment in digital and technological capabilities will be critical in building resilient, future-proof cities that can meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
As the UAE looks to chart the next 50 years of its development, I am confident that Singapore and Abu Dhabi will continue to walk alongside each other, in our respective journeys towards becoming Smart Cities.
I wish you all a fruitful time of discussions and networking, and a very successful Summit. Thank you.
Mrs Josephine Teo
Minister for Communications and Information,
and Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity