PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Smart Nation Launch

PM Lee Hsien Loong | 24 November 2014

Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Smart Nation launch on 24 November 2014.


Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Environment and Water Resources

Ms Yong Ying-I, Chairman of Infocomm Development Agency

Ladies and Gentlemen

May I congratulate all the winners of the National Infocomm Awards. You exemplify the spirit of innovation. You have brought technology and bright ideas together. You have made it work and you have made life better for us.

At this year’s National Day Rally, I spoke on how we can use technology to make a difference to our people’s lives, and to build a Smart Nation. Today, I am glad to be here to recognise the organisations and the people at the forefront of this effort. I will take a few minutes today to talk about our Smart Nation initiative and our vision for where we want to take Singapore in this direction.

Why Smart Nation: Our Vision

In 50 years since independence, we have succeeded beyond expectations. Soon after Separation Mr Lee Kuan Yew said – “Over a hundred years ago, this was a mud-flat swamp. Today this is a modern city. Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear.” Indeed Singa¬pore has become a metropolis, and more. We have improved our standard of living. We have created opportunities for our people and we have built a city and country to be proud of.

Looking ahead, we should aim to be an outstanding city in the world. An outstanding place for people to live, work and play in, where the human spirit flourishes. The world is changing fast. We are a leading city today but other leading cities like San Francisco, New York, London, Sydney, Shanghai, they are attracting capital, talent, ideas. They are building outstanding urban environments. They are pulling ahead of the rest of the pack and even of the rest of the countries which they belong to. We have to move ahead with them and stay up there amongst the leading cities of the world. We owe it to our people and we can do this. We have the people, we have the resources and we have the ability to make it happen.

One important advantage which we have which we must take full advantage of is to use technology extensively and systematically, particularly IT. Not just piecemeal, individual gadgets, individual programmes and systems – that we are already doing, and all sorts of devices and applications have technology and IT in them. I am sure just in this room if we add all our handphones together we will have terabytes of storage and gigabytes of processing power but we have to do this systematically, to make the most of the potential, to integrate all of the technology and possibilities into a coherent and comprehensive whole. This will make our economy more productive, our lives better, and our society more responsive to our people’s needs and aspirations.

Therefore our vision is for Singapore to be a Smart Nation – A nation where people live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled seamlessly by technology, offering exciting opportunities for all. We should see it in our daily living where networks of sensors and smart devices enable us to live sustainably and comfortably. We should see it in our communities where technology will enable more people to connect to one another more easily and intensively. We should see it in our future where we can create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagined possible.

We have already started on this Smart Nation journey. We are wired up and well-connected – 9 out of 10 Singapore homes have broadband and soon we should have fibre to every home. Our smart phone penetration is one of the highest in the world – 85 percent of people have smartphones. We are doing a lot in terms of e-government – IRAS’ e-filing, MHA’s Passport Application Services, NLB book borrowing – they are amongst the best in the world in terms of responsiveness, in terms of comprehensiveness of service. Nobody enjoys paying taxes but if you must pay taxes, pay to IRAS. In healthcare our public hospitals have integrated their patient records so that doctors can pull up information on the patient regardless of the hospital the patient goes to. If he is admitted as an emergency or he goes to another hospital, the data is there. Some other countries have spent tens of billions of dollars trying to build systems like this and sometimes giving up after spending tens of billions of dollars. We are not completely there yet but we are making progress and we are getting it to work. Our start-up scene is lively; there are more young people are starting companies, writing apps and building high-tech products and our people are technology-savvy. If you look at our schools math and science standards by all the international comparisons are amongst the best in the world. One positive sign is that not only have they got the aptitude, they are showing more interest in it. In the last three years, more of our best students have chosen to do Computer Science and Information Systems in our universities.

So we have the elements but we have to build on them to make a national effort, and to set ourselves the goal of becoming a Smart Nation. What does this mean? There are many things but let me just illustrate some the possibilities.

Our daily living

First of all, our daily lives should become more convenient and sustainable. Megan just now on video showed you what this means but let me tell you again. If you can automate the things which are routine we can focus our time and energy on the things that really matter to us.

We are developing Jurong Lake District into a beautiful location. Imagine how technology can contribute to this. Take a family heading down to Jurong Lake for a day out on a weekend. You are rushing and in your rush, you forgot to turn off your lights and your air-conditioner. In the old days, you either run all the way home or wait till the end of the day and kilowatt hours are burnt and money spent. But today you should be able to get your iPhone, connect to your home and find out what the status is and if your air-conditioning is on, turn it off, and if your lights are on, turn them off. Save energy, save bills, save anxiety. You may be unsure how you want to get to your destination so you get hold of an app and that tells you which bus and train to take and how to minimise the crowds. If you have a bigger family, lots of kids, you want to take a car; you should be able to get a self-drive car to take you there. No need to drive, no need to find parking! Along the way you should have a smooth ride because hopefully driverless cargo vehicles and container trucks move at night, driverless when the roads are free. Day time is freed up for people. And when you get there and you want to buy something, you just wave your watch to pay, and your watch will find the best credit card promotion! So instead of a PAssion card we should have a PAssion watch.

What I described is not really that far-off. In fact many technologies are already here. We already have smart devices in homes – whether air conditioners or lighting, they are there. We already have data and apps to help commuters plan their routes on buses and trains. In fact, LTA has just launched a new application to help you get from point A to point B and know how to do it. And I have one here, let me show you – I hope it works.

We have got the app on the screen, it is MyTransport at the bottom right, just click on it. This is the new version, you may already have one but this one showed up in the app store just last night. So if you have not updated your phone, please do so. The point is, this one has got a journey planner – the icon is at the bottom left, if you click on the journey planner, it shows you where you are, what your nearest bus stop is and you can choose where you want to go to. So we are at Marina Bay Sands at Bayfront Avenue and I want to go to Ion Orchard. It tells me that I must take bus 106 heading towards Bukit Batok Interchange. To get to bus 106, I need to walk to Marina Bay Sands Theatre which is across the road, take the bus, and when I get off the bus, I will walk to the destination at Orchard Turn and it will tell you how long you take to get there. As you sit on the bus, it will tell you how many stops to go, so from where you are, we have nine more stops to go and as you proceed, it will count down. You do not need to look at it all the time because two stops before where you are supposed to get off, it will beep and you can wake up – I hope so. I think LTA passes the test on this one, so do I.

You have got the apps, you have got driverless cars – they are coming. People see them as Sci-Fi but in fact they exist. Google has got their driverless car so have other companies. The Google one has driven 1 million kilometres and I hear they only had two accidents in that 1 million kilometres. One, they got rear-ended by a human being and the other one, a human being was driving the car and crashed it. So it will be some time before we all have driverless cars, but the technology is coming and we should all be ready for it.

We are trying out driverless buggies at the Lake District in Jurong and we will be trying out other driverless vehicles on some routes in One North next year. For transactions, the watch is not there yet but many of us already interact with Government departments online, like Tax-filing. We have been trialling NFC payments for retail and transport. We do not have to wait for ApplePay which was just launched in the US. What we need to do is to pull all these pieces together. For example, HDB is studying how to plug-and-play smart devices for the household, and to improve things that bother people, like parking allocation in HDB carparks. IDA is already building the network that will connect intelligent devices across the nation, from sensors to driverless cars. So that is how you can integrate everything seamlessly in our design of towns and our daily living.

Our Communities and Society

But being a Smart Nation is more than just making our lives more convenient, it can also strengthen our community and society, help us to connect to those we care deeply about. Enable us to do things we never imagined we could do, and empower communities to look out for and help one another.

Many of us are already on social media, the very old ones not so much, the not so old ones, probably on Facebook accounts. The very young ones think that Facebook is for old folks, so they do not do Facebook because their parents do it – so they are on Instagram and Twitter. Good and bad things come on social media but one good thing is that they help us to keep in touch with our friends and people whom we may not meet very often. But some lament that we spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and we need more face-to-face, and we have an app for that also. Made by Republic Polytechnic students, it is called Apple Tree. If you spend time with family and not touch your phones, you get a reward. So what we need to do is to integrate the online part with the real life offline part in order to create more opportunities for us to interact with one another. For example, we can have platforms where communities can come together to work on improving their precinct or provide feedback to government agencies on issues, on problems which need to be solved.

We can connect to our neighbours with apps, so that we can informally help one another. Like-minded neighbours can come together to pursue some common hobby like gardening or exercise together. Or you can share things or cooperate with one another like where you kind of have an exchange and you can do favours for one another or run errands for each other.

So these are all things which previously were quite impossible, but now they are possible. And one aspect of life which IT can make a big difference to is looking after the old people. Many of us have elderly parents to take care of, and we worry about their health and worry for their safety – if something happens to them, if they fall down or they get ill, we may not know. Because many seniors want to live alone, or rather, want to live in their own homes, instead of being completely reliant on others or their children.

If it may be two old folks and one passes on and it is one old person, in fact, 10 – 15 percent of our households are single person households. It is quite a thought, they have families but their families are not living in the same household as them. So we need to do something to solve this problem. HDB is piloting the Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System, I do not know what the acronym is but it is the Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System sensors in HDB flats, which uses a combination of sensors so that if the system detects something out of the ordinary, the routine changes, there was a signal where it should not have been, it can raise the alarm and alert family members or neighbours.

We can also use IT for tele-medicine, so that it can deliver healthcare to the home. The daughter does not have to travel all the way, or the nurse of the physio-therapist, but from the hospital we can connect up and you can talk and find out what is happening, and give advice and monitor and treat the patient.

I wanted to do a demonstration but instead of doing a demonstration, I will show you a video of how this is done, where the physiotherapist in the hospital can monitor and treat a stroke patient at home, watch the video, it tells you a heart-warming story. Video plays.

This is just one patient and she is not that old, but there are a lot of old people in Singapore who are at risk of this. By 2030, there is going to be 900,000 people in Singapore, 65 and over, and I think including many who are in this room. Our Smart Nation vision can radically change how we approach the idea of active ageing, so that we have more to look forward to in our golden years. We will also use technology in an inclusive way, so that all groups can benefit, including those not so familiar with IT, and in particular the older people.

We are going to have Citizen Connect Centres with officers to help citizens access Government services, while we make these services available online. We will have “Silver Infocomm Junctions” that provides affordable and customised IT training for seniors. When we have IT, we want it to be accessible to everybody and we have to prevent a digital divide from turning up in Singapore – between those who have IT and can afford it and know how to use it, and those who do not have IT or do not know how to use it. For example, we have e-filing for our courts – documents are filed electronically and stored in a database, you do not have to have stacks and stacks of paper. We move faster than other countries on this. I just met in Australia, the Governor of the State of Queensland, I was there for a meeting in Brisbane, and he used to be the Chief Justice of Queensland. He came to Singapore two years ago for a conference of Chief Justices and saw our system. He was very impressed. He said the most impressive thing was not that you have a computer system, but we have provided ways and booths where people who cannot afford the access and do not know how to do the access, they can go there and bring their papers there and they can be helped and have their papers filed electronically. You may be rich, you may be poor, if you have to go to the courts, if you need to have access to justice, you get access to justice. This was one issue that they in Queensland have thought about automating and computerising their filing, and how to make sure everybody has it. We have that and we must continue to have that.

Our future

The Smart Nation is not just a slogan – It is a rallying concept for all of us to work together to transform our future together. I have just described a few ideas, these are just scratching the surface because there are endless possibilities waiting to be dreamed of.

We will only make this a Smart Nation if we get everybody active, engaged, excited, wanting to make this happen. When enterprises seize opportunities to provide a service or build a product that makes our lives better, when programmers build apps that help communities to bond, when neighbours step up to check on their neighbours through the HDB Smart Elderly monitoring system when it sounds the alarm.

The Government will lay the foundation – we will build the infrastructure, facilitate innovation and create the framework for all of us to contribute. One way in which we are going to do this, is to open up our maps, our databases of places and information about them, so that the public can share their geo-spatial information, can share meaning can use what is there and can contribute and put information into the system.

Imagine if we can tap on everyone’s local knowledge and anyone can contribute data: animal sightings, traffic incidents, potential hazards for cyclists, even the best mee pok or nasi lemak.

Today, we are going to launch a new project called Virtual Singapore, the idea is to develop an integrated 3D map of Singapore enriched with layers of data about buildings, land and the environment. It will be a platform to bring the Government, Citizens, Industry and Research Institutions together to solve problems, for example to simulate wireless coverage or effects of heavy rain. What that means is to find out where it floods when it rains.

What we will do

To realise this vision, I think we have to pull the pieces together from all over the Government. We will set up a Smart Nation Programme Office. Today, the Government departments are all variously doing their own thing – LTA, URA, MOM and so on. Our research institutes are doing their own things, R&D institutes like A*Star are doing things like helping NLB sort books at night using robotics and sensors, quite interesting programmes, but we need to bring them together. We can go much further if we can put it together, to identify issues, prototype ideas, deploy them effectively to benefit the whole nation.

We will have a Smart Nation Programme Office and it will do this - take in perspectives and ideas from many sources, make sure that we take a whole-of-Government, whole-of-nation approach to building a Smart Nation. To make sure that it works, I am going to put this Office in the Prime Minister’s Office, and I am putting Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in charge and I will take a personal interest.

One important aspect of a Smart Nation is cyber-security. We are outing more and more functions and data into our computers, handphones, networks and systems. Often they know more about us than we remember about ourselves. It is vital that we have secure systems that we can trust, not just preventing credit card numbers from being stolen, but protecting ourselves from malicious attacks where there is hacking or Distributed Denial of Service attacks, you know what that is. Whether is it malware that infects our computers which steals sensitive information or possibly threatens critical infrastructure if it gets into the hospital IT systems, patients can die, if it gets into our power system, our power grid can be brought down, if it gets into our airport system, we can have a very serious problem. In fact in America, there was one airport where a young teenager got into the airport IT system and rummage around, and was able to turn off all the airport lighting on the tarmac for half a day. So it is not a laughing matter, we take it seriously; we already have cyber security duties residing in Ministry of Home Affairs and the Infocomm Development Authority. But I do not think that they are as strong as we would like them to be. We need to reorganise them, to strengthen our system and our institutions. We are studying how best to do that, to protect our Government systems, including the Smart Nation sensor systems, against cyber-attacks. But also outside the Government, other critical systems like in telecoms, banking and energy sectors. You will never be completely impregnable, but I think we need to be secure and as safe as we can be. That means within the Government we need the system and outside the Government we must reach out to the companies and individuals, to raise your security awareness in order to create a secure and trusted ICT network.

We need the right organisations, the right skills, the right mindsets to be a Smart Nation. We have to start with our education system. We are equipping students with up-to-date knowledge and skills to use the technology. But schools must also teach students how to create the technology of the future; teach them to code, to prototype and build things, to fail fast and learn quickly, to use the latest gadgets, the latest tools and be up with the latest technology.

There is work being done on this all over the world. I just read an article – there is an American group which is designing a $10 robot, $10 for school children to learn how to programme robots. It can find out where it is, it can follow lines, it can move forward, move back, can turn, can measure distances using infrared, and you can programme it graphically. So if you want to turn the light on, you pull a LED icon, put it there, put the green light, it lights up. Children can do that. Our children can do that. We have kids in school who do very well at robot soccer. We never win, or we have so far not won at the real World Cup, but at the robotics world cup championships, we do very well.

I think that we must get our children in schools exposed to IT, exposed to programming. It is a long way for us, but in some countries, all kids are required to learn to code, at least the basics, so you understand what it is about, even though you may not write the next Windows operating system. We may not go that far, but I think we must expose our kids and we must enable the most talented and interested ones to be able to go far and develop their talent in IT in schools and pursue that, whether in university, whether after that, to set up a start-up or to join a company, or work with the Government and make a Smart Nation.

So we need the skills, we need the education, and the “can-do” spirit of experimenting and risk-taking. This is what makes Silicon Valley special: the world leader in technology innovation, a constant churn of ideas, of new business models. The Chinese are getting there too. I was in Shenzhen a few months ago, and visited Tencent, 腾讯, in Shenzhen. They are one of the big IT companies in the world now. If you walk around and talk to their people and soak up the mood, you would think you were in Silicon Valley. It is informal, it is casual, lots of energy, lots of new things going on – some will succeed, some will fail, but a passion to change the world. They put up screens showing all the places where people are using QQ or Wechat, and it is all over the world. I think we need that passion and that excitement to move.

Within the Government, we are reviewing how to manage the careers of our technologists and engineers, because we need to strengthen our own capabilities within the Government. We cannot just be outsourcing everything. Yes, we need to bring in expertise from the industry, but we need our own expertise too, not least to be able to specify what we want and to be able to interact fruitfully with the industry. In particular we will build up the IDA, because it has a key role in spearheading the development of a Smart Nation. Build up, meaning not just the headcount, but growing a culture and the mindset of experimentation. Being willing to try new approaches, disrupt existing ways of doing things; try, fail fast, learn the lessons, turn around quickly; constantly pushing the boundaries, inside the Government, outside the Government.

IDA needs more of this ethos. It cannot quite be like a Silicon Valley company, because it is not just a start-up. It has a regulatory role in telecoms; it has responsibilities in maintaining large Government systems. But IDA must also push the envelope, using technology to seek new applications, to find new approaches to existing problems. You must have that ethos within the system, within IDA. You must have that kind of people within IDA who want to do it and who feel that they can work like that, even though IDA is quite a big organisation and the Singapore Government has on-going responsibilities to keep the system going reliably and not failing.

Smart Nation is a lot of possibilities, I think, a lot of excitement, particularly for young people. This is our country, this is our future. My question to young people would be: Do you want to be part of this movement, to build a Smart Nation? Come together, design the solutions, test the ideas, give us the feedback, imagine it, let’s decide on it, let’s make it happen.


We are making a home for all Singaporeans, young and old. Not just the technologically savvy, but everyone. We want to transform our lives for the better, and we have what it takes to achieve this vision – the capabilities and the daring to pull it all together and make a quantum leap forward. I am looking forward to living in a Smart Nation – better living for all of us; stronger communities in our society; and more opportunities for all.

If I may go back to what Mr Lee Kuan Yew said when first we became independent and take it one step forward, update it, today perhaps this is what he would say: 50 years ago, we built a modern city. Today, we have a metropolis. 10 years from now, let’s have a smart nation!

Let us make it happen together! Thank you very much.

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