Smart Nation Innovations Week Gala Dinner 2018
Speech By Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at the Smart Nation Innovations Week Gala Dinner
04 Jun 2018
Good evening everyone and welcome to Smart Nation Innovations (SNI) Week – an international event for the global tech and innovation community to gather in Singapore. I would like to extend a very warm welcome to all of you.
THE ONGOING DIGITAL REVOLUTION
We all know that there is a digital revolution going on. We have gone beyond pervasive computing, broadband and mobile connectivity. In fact, the price for these basic digital utilities are trending to zero. We are now witnessing the simultaneous explosion of artificial intelligence, big data, deep learning and robotics. This means that machines can now see, hear, speak, analyse big data, recognise patterns, improve their own algorithms and achieve autonomy – perhaps in ways beyond human comprehension. All these platform technologies are building on and amplifying one another. These advancements in digital technologies are transforming the way we live, work and play, communicate, organise our societies and the economy.
The start of every new technological shift is often characterised by a Gilded Age with increased inequality. In the previous industrial revolution, the first movers were the ones who made enormous fortunes and amassed great power. Think of John Rockefeller who made great fortunes in the business of oil and Andrew Carnegie the self-made steel tycoon who built a formidable steel industry. What happens in the latter phase of industrial revolution is that skills and information are gradually disseminated and commoditised, and the value of creation gets widely distributed. This is termed the Golden Age, where the greatest benefits of the industrial revolution are reaped and the middle class begins to grow. For the last industrial revolution, the Golden Age occurred after World War II where the economy bloomed and the world entered a period of prosperity with wealth redistribution.
We are now in the early days of the digital revolution. The key political challenge for every society, including Singapore, is how we can successfully ride on this digital revolution, to smoothly glide from the Glided Age to the Golden Age. It is crucial to commoditise digital tools and skills, to create new jobs and opportunities in a digital economy. We must also make use of digital tools to create a fair and cohesive society.
This is the underlying context behind our efforts to transform Singapore into a Smart Nation. Smart Nation is not about pursuing technology for its own sake. It must ultimately be about creating opportunities, in particular high value jobs, to ensure that the benefits of this digital age are far-reaching and widespread.
It is about being bold in solving real-world problems and seizing new opportunities through technology. Our intent is to improve daily life in our city and make it more convenient and secure; create exciting jobs and opportunities; and energise the talented and creative to pursue their dreams not only in Singapore, but also to serve the global community. This is how Singapore can stay relevant and prosperous, and remain a good place to live, work and play.
Although we speak of Smart Nation as an endeavour we began four years ago, Singapore has actually always sought to leverage technology to improve our quality of life. Almost 20 years ago, we transformed our National Library system by adopting RFID technology. This allowed library users to check out books on their own and eliminated queues. Our systems for the e-filing of taxes, gantries at our airports and even the application and delivery of passports remain much admired globally.
The game-changing equivalents today would be in the areas of leveraging data and automation to optimise efficiency in transportation and logistics, and utilising new technology to promote better wellness and healthcare management.
SINGAPORE AS A PLACE OF OPPORTUNITY
But to truly succeed as a Smart Nation, we intend to go beyond individual programmes and projects. Because there can never be a complete sense of arrival at a Smart Nation. It is a continuous evolution. But there are some pre-requisites.
First, we will continue to provide some of the best digital infrastructure in the world. Here, we are in a position of strength, with past achievements we can build on. We have put fibre in every home and business premise, deployed the world’s fastest broadband and are improving mobile connectivity. The Government is building critical platforms such as a network of sensors that can provide data for better security and urban planning purposes, e-payments infrastructure, and a National Digital Identity that will enable the public and private sectors to provide truly presence-less, paperless, cashless and secure transactions in a few years’ time. These will unlock greater convenience and new possibilities – at both personal and enterprise levels – and eventually lead to wider distribution of benefits and opportunities for all.
Second, we will continue to be one of the best places in the world for good ideas to take flight. One of Singapore’s strengths lies in the ability to foster a vibrant innovation ecosystem with healthy flows of global ideas, expertise and Smart Money. Since 2012, Singapore has consistently been ranked among the top 20 in the world for start-up ecosystems and was ranked 12th in the world last year, up from 17th in 2012. We have been experiencing strong growth in high technology companies and knowledge intensive sectors with the number of tech start-ups rising to around 4,300 in 2016, up from just 2,800 in 2003. We have expanded Block 71, the densest entrepreneurship ecosystem in the world, to include two more blocks - Block 73 and 79. We have a good presence of regional as well as global ICT players, such as Huawei, Amazon, Google and Facebook.
Meanwhile, the amount of new investments and number of exits has been increasing. In 2016, a record US$3.5 billion of venture capital funds was invested in local start-ups and the momentum carried over to last year, where the total venture capital investments surged to US$ 725.3 million in the second quarter of the year. The numbers in the second quarter were boosted by a hefty US$550 million funding round by internet platform provider Sea, one of the four Singapore-based unicorns. The other three unicorns are Razer, Lazada and Grab in the gaming, ecommerce and ride hailing industry respectively.
The Services and Digital Economy is also an area of focus in our US$ 14 billion (S$ 19 billion) Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Masterplan. The aim is to develop digital innovation capabilities to support transformation in our Future Economy clusters and to address national challenges. It is not just to support research and development in the labs, but to translate that work into turning discoveries into products and services.
Third, Singapore will remain connected as a digital node in a global network of innovation and ideas. If you think about Singapore over the last 200 years, since 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles arrived, Singapore was part of a maritime Silk road connecting Asia to Europe. It was about the movement of things, not the Internet of Things. In the digital age, it would not be just about moving things but bits and bytes, designs and ideas.
Today, Singapore is a key node in the global trade network. In the future, we want to be a node in a network of digital cites and countries, sharing ideas and innovations, as well as digital products and services.
We are providing our local businesses with an effective means to reach out to the global market, through initiatives such as the Global Innovation Alliance, in short, the GIA. The GIA is a key recommendation in the Committee on the Future Economy 2016 report for Singapore to establish networks with overseas partners in major innovation hubs and key demand markets, with a focus on technology and innovation.
Under the GIA, more opportunities will be created for students, entrepreneurs and business owners to gain overseas experiences, connect and collaborate with their overseas counterparts. This will strengthen Singapore’s partnerships and networks with leading global innovation hubs, to improve accessibility for local technology companies, entrepreneurs, investors to connect with the global digital ecosystem of accelerators, incubators, tech giants, start-ups and venture capitalist sector.
The GIA will expand efforts to introduce our students to innovation and entrepreneurship in global innovation hubs and emerging markets in the region through the Innovators Academy. This will build on the Government’s existing programmes like the NUS Overseas Colleges programme, which immerses students in the innovation ecosystems of places like Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv and Beijing through internships at technology startups. Such programmes have groomed fresh entrepreneurial talent and promising startups in Singapore. A couple of months back in Nov 2017, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat has officially launched the GIA in Beijing, where Singapore will look to establish Launch Pads for local companies to connect with the business and innovation community in China. This includes access to talent, capital, customers and partners in major innovation hubs within China, in places such as Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou and Shenzhen.
Within our region, Singapore is playing a key role in bringing our immediate neighbours together. One of the key initiatives we are driving as ASEAN chair this year is to establish an ASEAN Smart Cities Network – a collaborative platform for cities across our region to work towards the common goal of smart and sustainable urban development. Our Governments will also benefit from these exchanges and partnerships.
Lastly, we are reskilling our workforce to seize the opportunities in the digital revolution. Under Singapore’s SkillsFuture movement to promote lifelong learning, and equip workers with technological skills, the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) was introduced to support both ICT and non-ICT professionals to acquire expertise and skills which are in demand. Just four months ago, during our annual Budget 2018, the Government announced that an additional $145million will be set aside for this program. The programme will be expanded into new arenas like manufacturing and professional services where digital technologies are progressively important. And we will also go beyond the workforce to also make sure that all citizens are digitally ready and digitally skilled. PARTNERSHIPS FOR A SMART NATION
In order for Singapore to bring our digitalisation to a higher level, we will need to build new digital infrastructure, provide a strong ecosystem for good ideas to take flight, remain connected to the global flow of ideas and innovation, and reskill our people.
This is not an easy task but it is a necessary one. Certainly, we cannot do this alone. We are looking for good people and innovative companies to join us on this journey. There are a huge number of opportunities out there and everyone has a role to play.
In closing, I am pleased to be here tonight with all of you to celebrate the spirit of innovation, and what better setting than this. We see flowers and nature around us here in Gardens by the Bay, and experience this ‘City in a Garden’ that Singapore is known for around the world. But underpinning all of this beauty, is innovation and technology. Not only is there a carefully planned system of technology ensuring environmental sustainability, the Gardens is also a hub for horticultural R&D. To construct a project of this scale requires collaborative efforts across Government and we had to think and be bold and ambitious, and make room for new ideas to bloom.
Similarly, Smart Nation is about transforming Singapore through technology. So, as we embark on what I hope would be an insightful, enriching and productive week ahead, I would like to thank you again for joining us at the Smart Nation Innovations Week Gala Dinner and Opening Symposium. Please enjoy your dinner and the programme we have lined up for you.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
Minister-in-Charge Of The Smart Nation Initiative