Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Smart Nation and U Festival 2019 on 30 November 2019.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-in-Charge of The Smart Nation Initiative
Mr Heng Chee How
Deputy Secretary General, NTUC
I am very happy to see a big crowd here at the Smart Nation and U Festival this afternoon. The theme of today’s festival is “Transforming Singapore Through Technology". This is a journey that involves all of us. Whether you are young or old, technology is reshaping the way we live, work and play. This is why NTUC and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office have worked closely together to organise this festival, with activities for people of all ages. I hope you will have lots of fun at the various showcases and workshops, and at the same time, pick up some tips for how technology can improve your life, and help you become better at work.
Technology Has Changed Our Lives
The best example of how technology has changed our lives is the smartphone. I am sure almost everyone has your phone with you today – some of you may even have two phones with you! Thirty years ago, if you wanted to buy something, you would go to the shops. If you wanted to find out what was going on in Singapore, or the world, you would read the newspaper, or turn on the radio or TV. If you want to contact someone, you would find the number to call in the Yellow Pages, and call the person on your landline. Today, if you want to do any of the above – you just pull out your smartphone, and you can get everything done on the spot! This is a real reflection of how technology has made our lives more convenient.
Businesses understand how pervasive smartphones have become, and are tapping on digital technology to deliver their services more conveniently. For instance, if you want to check your bank account balance today, you don’t have to go to a bank, or even to an ATM. You can check it with your online banking apps, any time of the day or night, from anywhere in the world!
In the same way, the Government is also moving towards digital service delivery, so that it is easier for Singaporeans to access information and services. One good example is our Moments of Life app, which is a one-stop shop for parents with young children. We know young parents are already very stretched trying to take care of your newborn, So through the app, we have made it easier to: register your child’s birth, apply for Baby Bonus, and even arrange for your baby’s immunisations and health check-ups. Hopefully, the time saved means more precious moments with your family, or perhaps even catching up on sleep!
Technology Will Transform How We Live and Work
In the coming years, technology will continue to change the way we live and work.
Just before entering the Marquee, I took a ride on an autonomous vehicle developed by MooVita, a Singapore-based start-up. I was only on the vehicle for a few minutes, but we have been pushing the boundaries of self-driving technology for a long time. Recently, we expanded the testing areas for autonomous vehicles to the entire western part of Singapore. This enables our companies to test their systems more robustly, and brings us closer to deploying autonomous vehicles as transport solutions for our people. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to make our journeys safer, more reliable, and more efficient. Whether we are commuting across the island for work, or moving around our neighbourhoods to meet friends and run errands!
When I got off the ride, I was also greeted by Cruzr, a humanoid service robot. Cruzr shook my hand, walked with me, and shared useful information about the Festival. In the future, we may see Cruzr’s “descendants” helping us in even more ways. For example, they may serve food at restaurants, help to keep our homes, offices and estates clean, or even work side by side with us as receptionists and assistants in our shops and offices! By helping to perform more routine tasks, service robots can free up time for us to take on more complex work, and get more done each day.
Smart Nation and U
These are just some of the ways that technology opens up many exciting, new possibilities for both work and play.
The future of tech could be even more exciting. But there are also risks that need to be managed. Data security is one of them. The Government is doing more to improve its own processes, and educate companies and organisations on how to better protect their data. But the threats will keep evolving, so we all need to keep learning. Another risk is that new technologies will render many jobs and skills redundant. If we do not keep up with the changes, we might find it difficult to adapt at work, or perhaps even lose our jobs. And as a society, we might end up with a new “digital divide” – between those who know how to use technology, and those who don’t.
These are risks that we have to manage. But our response cannot be to shut ourselves off from technology. If we do so, we will become irrelevant, as the rest of the world advances.
Instead, we must do everything within our power to progress together. This is why we are working so hard to become a Smart Nation, where every person and business has access to technology, and where everyone is empowered to use technology to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. Achieving this will require each of us to upgrade ourselves, and help those around us to level up.
Therefore, I am very pleased to announce that the Government will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NTUC to help all Singaporeans join in our Smart Nation journey. Under this MOU, the Government and NTUC will work together to organise educational events for workers and their families to learn how they can use technology to improve their lives; equip NTUC’s network of members with digital skills in fields like Artificial Intelligence and data science; get feedback from the public on new digital government services; and set up “Technology Test Villages” at NTUC’s premises, where the public can try out new digital government services and Smart Nation initiatives.
So this weekend’s Smart Nation and U Festival is just the first of many such events that NTUC and the Government will organise together!
In addition to working with NTUC, I am also very happy that our festival today involves: more than 60 partners from across the private and public sector, including banks, large tech companies and SMEs, and also more than 700 Smart Nation Ambassadors, who are all volunteers!
One of these Smart Nation Ambassadors is Mdm Rahimah Bte Salimin, a Cyber Guide under NTUC’s “U Live” community. For more than 10 years, she has volunteered to help other seniors learn to use smartphones and mobile apps. She has been on the Smart Nation journey before we even coined the term! And even though she looks very youthful, she is actually 65 years old, a mother of five, and grandmother of 17 grandchildren – what an inspiring example of lifelong learning!
Besides our seniors, our youths have also stepped up as Smart Nation Ambassadors. For those of you attending the “My Smart Ah Ma” workshops at the U Live Symposium tomorrow, you might be interested to know that all your “instructors” are actually Temasek Polytechnic students! They will be sharing how you can use digital government apps, such as MyTransport and Healthy365. For those of you interested, you can still sign up for tomorrow’s Symposium.
Please join me in giving NTUC, SNDGO, and all our Smart Nation Ambassadors and volunteers, a big round of applause for making this festival possible!
I am very encouraged to see so many different groups and individuals contribute their time and energy for this festival. This is precisely what our Singapore Together movement is all about – getting our people to partner each other, share ideas, and take action to contribute to our shared future.
No matter where we are on our tech journey, all of us can – and should – take the next step, whether this means learning to use a smartphone or computer, volunteering to help others, like Mdm Rahimah, or even building digital solutions for yourself, or those around you!
By working together, we can equip ourselves for the future, nurture a culture of innovation and transformation through technology, and build a Smart Nation.
I wish all of you a fun and meaningful time ahead at the festival.
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