Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at Smart Nation & U at Smart Nation CityScape@URA Centre on 11 March 2021.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative
Mr Heng Chee How, Deputy Secretary-General, NTUC
I am pleased to launch the Smart Nation and U Festival this morning. I launched the inaugural edition two years ago at Downtown East, to a vibrant atmosphere and crowd. COVID-19 has forced us to switch to a different format today. But the fact is that we can still hold the Festival, enabled by digital technology. So this year’s theme to ‘reclaim our lives with tech’ is most apt.
Role of Technology during COVID-19
Digital technology has played a critical role in our fight against COVID-19. With TraceTogether and SafeEntry, we reduced the time taken to identify and quarantine a close contact from 4 days to less than 1.5 days. The Gov.sg WhatsApp channel is delivering regular updates to 1.2 million subscribers in their preferred language. Technology has also given us some degree of normalcy, such as using virtual meetings to keep in touch with loved ones and to conduct business.
Riding the Digital Wave to Seize New Opportunities
A lasting legacy of COVID-19 is the acceleration of major structural changes. In particular, the pace of digital disruptions will continue to quicken. We have known for some time that digital technology will fundamentally change the way we work, live and play. Technological progress has been rapid – for example, today’s smart phones have more computing power than what it took to send the first astronauts to the moon!
Industry 4.0, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, and other technologies – are reshaping and transforming our industries, and will power the next revolution in many fields - including healthcare, finance, professional services, urban development and many others.
We sought to get ahead of the curve, when we launched the Smart Nation initiative in 2014 – to use technology to create new opportunities and to better the lives of our people. With the progress that we have been making, our businesses and workers are now in a good position to ride on the digital wave. Our tech sector remains a bright spot for businesses and workers. Through our Industry Transformation Maps, we are helping each sector on their digitalisation journey, company by company. Our start-up eco-system continues to thrive. While relatively nascent, we have nurtured a number of unicorns, and the venture capital industry is growing rapidly. Many global tech companies have a presence in Singapore.
Under our Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 plans, the digital economy is a key R&D focus for the next five years. We will continue to deepen our digital capabilities – in areas such as quantum computing, Artificial Intelligence, and data science. And invest in deep tech to keep Singapore a vibrant innovation node.
In the coming years, technology and a growing digital economy will create many new opportunities and good jobs for our people. But we must ensure that our workers are ready for the digital world. Many in my generation started work using a typewriter. With the computer age, we moved to the word processor on a desktop, and later a laptop. These days, work can be done on the move, on a smartphone. Digital literacy and even basic coding will be core to the workforce of the future. We are therefore starting young in schools, and upskilling our workers throughout life.
But our Smart Nation journey is not just about the economy. It is fundamentally about using technology to improve the lives of our people. One important area is in creating a better living environment. For example, HDB is building intelligent homes where residents can monitor energy consumption on their smart phones, and sensor-enabled estate lighting that responds to weather conditions. I am here at URA Building, where the Singapore City Gallery is housed. I encourage you to visit a new exhibition – the Smart Nation CityScape – to better appreciate how technology is seamlessly embedded into our urban environment and daily lives.
Another major area is in serving you better – with a wider range of digital services delivered more seamlessly by companies, Government and the community. Increasingly, more people are going digital to meet their needs – from online shopping, to making payments, and even for tele-health. Companies and organisations have responded to this demand and offered the services in a more inclusive way. For example, the print media has offered more content digitally over time. The content is readily accessible, with options for larger font sizes and audio. During the pandemic, they also made COVID-related resources free, by keeping them in front of the paywall.
To support this shift to digital, we will continue to invest in digital infrastructure, such as fibre broadband and a 5G network. But it is not just about hardware. We are investing in key enablers, such as – SingPass – our national digital identity. Today, 2.5 million users are on the SingPass app, tripled from a year ago. We are expanding SingPass to include a wider range of services.
Singapore is a small nation. If we remain nimble and work together as one people and one economy, we can achieve our vision to be a Smart Nation. This will improve our lives, and build an enduring advantage that will enable us to emerge stronger from this crisis.
Building a Digitally Inclusive Society
While a digital future holds tremendous potential, we must ensure that we progress together as a society. Bridging the digital divide was a key issue that came out from the Emerging Stronger Conversations, which gathered views from Singaporeans on how we can forge a better future post-COVID-19. During these Conversations, I am heartened that many individuals, community partners and companies were keen to contribute to bridging the digital divide, and improving the lives and livelihoods of our people.
The Government set up the SG Digital Office last June. With the help of Digital Ambassadors and volunteers, we aim to reach out to 100,000 seniors, 18,000 hawkers and 20,000 heartland enterprises to go digital. We are also supporting lower-income families and seniors with affordable devices and internet access.
More encouragingly, many have come forward to contribute their time and energy to this cause. One example is Better.sg, a volunteer-driven non-profit tech collective where people from all backgrounds come together to build digital solutions to address societal issues. This includes mobile games that help youths learn about empathy, and Call Home, which allows our migrant workers to call their loved ones back home for free. NTUC, which is co-organising this Festival with the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, also started the Digital Kampong Programme. Under this programme, NTUC First Campus will be loaning iPads to 2,000 low-income families and their children.
Smart Nation and U Festival
We can take digital inclusion and unlocking the potential of digital technology further. It is therefore timely that we are launching the Smart Nation & U Festival today, which will take place over the next two weeks. Do sign up for the various panel discussions, which will explore how digital technologies have and will continue to empower us to emerge stronger from the challenges of COVID-19. The acceleration of tech adoption in the workplace has also widened the skills gap amongst workers. As more companies look to transform, we must ensure that our workers are equipped with the digital skills to take on new roles. For our workers, you can find out more about tech and job skills at five locations spread across our island. e2i will also be holding a virtual career fair, with support from tripartite partners. There are also many free webinars and subsidised courses on digital and tech that you can sign up for, where you can pick up basic skills on coding, data analytics and more.
Call to Action
On top of these ongoing efforts, we must continue to raise awareness of the potential of digital technology, and grow this momentum to build a more digitally inclusive society. As part of the Singapore Together movement, I encourage you to step forward to contribute your time and expertise to close the digital gap. You can volunteer as a Smart Nation Ambassador, or with the many ongoing collective efforts. You can consider joining the effort organised by the Alliances for Action, which are action-oriented groups, each formed to tackle a specific challenge under the Singapore Together movement. There are two Alliances on digital inclusion – one on expanding online learning opportunities, and another on helping disadvantaged families access smart devices. There are also other Alliances that ride on the digital wave, including the digitalisation of our supply chains and EduTech. You can also donate to the Digital for Life Fund to support projects initiated by the community. The Government will match donations dollar-for-dollar. Ultimately, building a more inclusive society will require a collective effort from all of us. To progress together as one, each of us must do our part to help those around us be part of this digital journey.
In conclusion, I encourage you to take part in the Smart Nation & U Festival. The force of digital disruptions is gaining pace. By working together, I am confident that we can ride on these winds of change to build a brighter and more digital future, one that will create a more vibrant economy, better jobs for our workers, and better lives for each and every Singaporean.
If we remain united, we can go beyond just reclaiming our lives with tech and emerge stronger from the crisis as one Singapore, together.
I wish everyone a meaningful and enjoyable festival. Thank you.
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