Opening Address by Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at SupercomputingAsia 2021
3 Mar 2021
Chairman of the NSCC Steering Committee Mr. Peter Ho
My good, old friend, Professor Tan Tin Wee who goes way back with me for more than four decades
Speakers and delegates
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you all for the invitation to SupercomputingAsia 2021.
The theme “Adapting to COVID-19 and beyond” is most apt. COVID-19 has certainly accelerated the ongoing technological, economic, social trends across the world. It has exposed shortcomings mercilessly whilst also presenting new opportunities for growth. Allow me to make three points.
Responding to COVID-19 nimbly
First, the crisis has demonstrated how digitalisation can enable a more nimble and adaptive response. As COVID-19 first emerged, our government engineers quickly developed tools to provide accurate information to the public, through websites like MaskGoWhere, SupportGoWhere, and FluGoWhere and also messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram. Some of these were developed literally overnight, within days. Our engineers had to work round the clock. The ability to provide crucial information from trusted sources enabled all of us to respond to this crisis in a coordinated, effective and calm manner.
We also developed a digital contract tracing tool, TraceTogether, which collects encrypted proximity data using Bluetooth signals. Contact tracing is in fact, usually, a manual and very resource-intensive task, but it is absolutely critical for battling the pandemic. An efficient contact tracing system breaks the chains of transmission by quickly identifying and isolating close contacts of infected persons. TraceTogether, along with SafeEntry, has enabled us to shorten the average time required for contract tracing from what used to be 4 days, to less than 1.5 days.
Another example is how technology has helped to inform regulations and interventions for the pandemic – including safe management measures and the calibration of group sizes. Government agencies leveraged the expertise of A*STAR scientists, who developed an airflow and droplet dispersion model built with SingHealth doctors and other ecosystem partners. It enables us to assess the risk of the spread of the droplets and aerosols when a person sneezes, coughs, talks or exhales. I understand that the scientists had tapped on the supercomputing resources at the NSCC for this, and will be sharing their study in detail later during the conference. Do stay tuned for their presentation if you want to find out more.
A Strong Foundation for Digitalisation
Second, we were only able to leverage digitalisation this way because we had already been steadily investing in a strong digital foundation before the crisis hit. This enabled us to build a strong digital infrastructure, developing modern capabilities, and, most important of all, nurturing in-house talent.
Because of these prior investments, Singapore has several comparative advantages that put us in good stead. Singaporeans are digitally literate. We have excellent, first-world digital infrastructure. This includes not just hardware but software elements. For instance, our National Digital Identity. This allowed us to build SafeEntry quickly. Our digital payments infrastructure, which allowed businesses to move online swiftly and also to move transactions from cash to digital forms. Our supercomputing infrastructure is also part of this infrastructure. It has powered COVID-related research efforts in areas such as genetics and drug discovery.
We need to conscientiously invest in the future and to look for new growth opportunities that will power these efforts. To this end, Artificial Intelligence (AI) represents the next frontier of our Smart Nation journey, to harness technology to transform our economy and our society. This is why in 2019, we launched our National AI Strategy, which will help to position Singapore as a leader in developing and deploying scalable, impactful AI solutions. As part of our National AI Strategy, we’ve identified five key sectors to focus our efforts – (i) Transport and Logistics; (ii) Smart Cities and Estates; (iii) Healthcare; (iv) Education; and (v) Safety and Security.
As developments in AI advance, AI models will increase in complexity, and the computational resources needed to train and work on these huge data sets – this requirement will only grow. That is why we need to make sure that we have invested sufficiently in high-performance computing (HPC) resources. In 2019, the Government announced a $200 million boost that will go towards putting in place the next generation national supercomputing system. This will support the growing high-end computing performance needs of Singapore’s research and education programs, including for the training of new AI algorithms and models.
Third, the crisis has underscored the importance of international cooperation in the fight against the virus across the world. You will recall that it was China that shared the first genome sequences of COVID-19 through the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID). And they did so early on. This early sharing enabled others, including our scientists in Singapore, to quickly develop diagnostic test kits and to begin work on treatments and vaccines. Singapore has published a digital health certificate utilising blockchain technology, which we call HealthCerts, to facilitate cross-border verification of COVID-19 test results and vaccine records in order to facilitate international travel. Several healthcare providers in the region have already adopted this standard, and we hope to further work with our other partners across the world to take this concept forward.
It is in this spirit of collaboration that I am happy to announce that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will be signed later today between the CSC-IT Centre for Science in Finland, the Singapore National Supercomputing Centre, Singapore Advanced Research and Education Network and the National University of Singapore.
The MOU will explore, amongst other things,
- the expansion of point-to-point high-speed, high-bandwidth networking links between Finland, the European Union (EU) and Singapore, as well as the development of big data transfer capabilities across vast distances;
- ways to develop quantum safe networks and links for more secure transfer of research data;
- the feasibility of leveraging the climate and renewable energy resource model in Finland for lowering supercomputing data centre power consumption costs; and
- joint HPC project calls for research and education that will grow the HPC communities in Singapore and Finland.
This MOU signals our intent to accelerate cross-border collaborations, which will benefit the research communities far beyond our shores. I look forward to seeing more impactful cross-border projects in the coming years.
As we continue to adapt to COVID-19 and beyond, we really have a lot to learn from our more established partners and collaborators at this conference and from across the world. I am confident that with your help, your insights, and our collective commitment, we will be able to emerge even stronger from this crisis.
Thank you all once again for participating in this session and I wish you the best of health. All the very best. Thank you.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative