Wednesday 26 November 2014

Smart Nation Launch

Vision of a smart nation is to make life better: PM Lee
Technology will also help Singapore to keep pace with world's top cities
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2014

THE need for Singapore to be a "smart nation", using the latest technology to benefit the country, is about making life better for the people and more.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also envisions it helping the nation to keep abreast of leading cities such as Shanghai, San Francisco and Sydney.

Bringing the current piecemeal uses of technology into a cohesive, nationwide whole "will make our economy more productive, our lives better, and our society more responsive to people's needs and aspirations", he said yesterday at the launch of the Smart Nation initiative.

To achieve this new goal, Mr Lee is setting up the Smart Nation Programme Office. It will come under the Prime Minister's Office and be led by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who will give more details about it next month.

Previously, individual technological efforts came under the Smart Cities Programme Office, a unit of statutory board Infocomm Development Authority (IDA).

One major initiative will be to let people access maps and build up geospatial databases by contributing information such as animal sightings, traffic incidents or the best mee pok eateries.

During his 35-minute speech, Mr Lee also used an improved app for planning bus journeys, to demonstrate how technology can make life more convenient. "If we can automate the things that are routine, then we can concentrate on the things that really matter."

Technology can also strengthen communities and aid the elderly, he said. For example, the Housing Board is piloting the use of motion sensors to detect irregular behaviours of elderly folk and send alerts to their caregivers.

Mr Lee is confident Singapore can become a smart nation, as most people own smartphones and have broadband access. Many are tech-savvy, while students consistently top the world in maths and science.

Some government e-services are also among the best in the world, he said, citing the Health Ministry's central database that helps doctors keep track of patients' health records across hospitals.

But even as Singapore ramps up its technology drive, he assured the less technologically-savvy - like senior citizens - they would not be left behind. Those without computers will have access to online government services in community clubs, said Mr Lee, pledging to "prevent a digital divide from happening".

He also promised to beef up security measures, to make sure sensitive information like medical data is not stolen, and to protect against hacker attacks.

"We already have cyber-security duties residing in the Ministry of Home Affairs, in the IDA, but I don't think they are as strong as we would like them to be," he said, adding that the Government was studying how to protect other critical sectors like telecommunications and banking.

It also aims to groom the next generation of technology experts by encouraging students to learn to code and by reviewing the career paths of its engineers.

Equip students with skills to create future tech: PM
These include a 'fail fast, learn quickly' mindset
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2014

SINGAPORE schools should equip students with the skills to create the technology of the future, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

These include not just abilities like computer programming, but also a "fail fast, learn quickly" mindset, he added.

Fleshing out the social and cultural aspects of how Singapore can become a technology-enhanced "smart nation", Mr Lee noted that this transformation requires the right education as well as a "can-do spirit of experimenting and risk-taking".

This energy is what sets apart tech hubs like Silicon Valley and the headquarters of Chinese Internet giant Tencent in Shenzhen, he said at the launch of the Smart Nation vision yesterday.

Singapore needs the same passion and excitement towards innovation, even in government agencies such as the Infocomm Development Authority, he said. While the regulator "can't quite be like a Silicon Valley company", it must "push the envelope" in using technology to find new approaches to existing problems.

The Government is also keen on building up its in-house tech capabilities and is conducting a review of how the public sector manages the careers of its engineers and tech workers, Mr Lee said.

He noted how lively the start-up scene here is, with more young people writing apps and building high-tech products, and an increasing number of top students choosing to study computer science and information systems.

"We must get our children in schools exposed to IT, exposed to programming," Mr Lee said, adding that in some countries, all children are required to learn the basics of coding.

Talented students should also be able to pursue their tech interests through various paths, whether by forming a start-up, joining a tech company or working with the Government to make Singapore a smart nation, he said.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, who heads the Government's new Smart Nation Programme Office, echoed Mr Lee's comments that education and attitudes here have to change for Singapore to capitalise on the tech revolution.

From learning the three "Rs" - reading, writing and arithmetic - people must now learn the "ABCs": an "Aesthetic sense of beauty and design, the ability to Build, and the ability to Communicate effectively", he said on Facebook last evening. Singaporeans also need to overcome their fear of failure and be prepared to experiment, while the country will have to place more emphasis on online security and privacy, he added.

Tech bosses here welcomed Mr Lee's remarks, saying workers with a foundation in programming literacy can be more productive in the workplace.

"Even if you don't use programming in your everyday work, if you can write a simple program to automate tasks or organise information, that's useful in a lot of ways," said Mr Tan Sian Yue, 40, founder of home-grown game developer Ratloop Asia.

S’pore must take full advantage of technology to make people’s lives better: PM Lee
New Smart Nation Programme Office will co-ordinate Govt agencies, citizens and industries
By Joy Fang, TODAY, 24 Nov 2014

Someday Singaporeans could control their appliances from their phones, switching them off and on remotely, they could also call for a self-driving car, and use a watch to pay for items.

These are some exciting new possibilities, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of in his speech this morning (Nov 24) at the National Infocomm Awards and Smart Nation Launch, where he handed out awards to recipients, including Numoni which nabbed the Most Innovative Infocomm Product/Solution award.

Mr Lee said Singapore has to take full advantage of the use of technology and deploy it not in a piecemeal fashion, but to integrate all technologies in a systematic and comprehensive manner to make people’s lives better and its economy more productive.

The country has already started on this Smart Nation journey, with e-Government services in place and a lively start-up scene as well as tech-savvy people, but the country needs to build on these elements and drive this as a national effort, he noted.

He urged people to have a can-do spirit of experimentation akin to that in Silicon Valley. Right skills and mindsets are needed, and the education system is already equipping students with up-to-date knowledge and skills to use technology. But beyond that, schools need to teach students to create the technology of the future.

To realise this “quantum leap forward”, a new Smart Nation Programme Office will co-ordinate the Government agencies, citizens and industries to ensure a whole-of-government approach to build a Smart Nation. It will come under the Prime Minister’s Office under the charge of Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

Mr Lee said the Government will lay a foundation by building infrastructure and facilitating innovation for everyone to contribute, and urged enterprises to provide innovative products as well as for citizens to chip in by participating and providing data.

But even as the nation drives this movement, Mr Lee reiterated that technology will be used in an inclusive manner so that all groups, particularly seniors, can benefit.

Writing in a Facebook post, Dr Balakrishnan said the new Smart Nation Programme Office will engage with all stakeholders over the coming months. He listed various considerations, such as, how can everyone be included in the digital revolution, how can an “open source” society be fostered and where to look for the “best ideas”.

“Certainly, we need to engage the best companies in the world. But we will also innovate, develop, prototype and deploy these ideas locally,” said Dr Balakrishnan. He added: “There will be many failed projects, but we need to learn and persevere in the face of these failures, and not give up in despair. Our attitude to success and failure must change.”

Dr Balakrishnan also listed some necessary “pre-requisite skills” Singaporeans need for the digital age: An aesthetic sense of beauty and design, the ability to build, and the ability to communicate effectively.

“What are the physical and technical pre-requisites? We certainly need world-leading digital infrastructure. Also, we need security, privacy and protection of identity, as the volume of online transactions and data increases. Our systems must be secure by design, not a reactive afterthought; and we all as individuals will need to be aware of the risks and know how best to protect ourselves,” he said.

Data shows LTA the ride way to lift service
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2014

DIGGING deep into the data contained on commuters' bus fare cards helped the Land Transport Authority (LTA) improve bus services - and clinch an infocomm award.

By assembling a data analytics team to make sense of the 3.7 million bus rides that Singapore commuters take every day, the LTA collected useful information to add new bus routes and relieve crowding.

This innovation allowed it to reverse the decline in customer satisfaction with bus services since 2010, and made it one of four top winners at the biennial National Infocomm Awards yesterday.

It bagged the prize for Most Innovative Use of Infocomm Technology in the public-sector category, a sign of recognition for its pioneering efforts in this area.

"Over the last four years, being the only one rushing around trying to do something very new, we weren't sure we were doing the right thing," said Ms Rosina Howe-Teo, LTA group director for innovation and infocomm technology. Now, LTA is building on its data capabilities to move into real-time analytics - for instance, using Wi-Fi to measure how crowded train platforms are.

Another winner of the National Infocomm Awards, organised by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore and trade body Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation, was payment services firm Numoni.

It took the award for Most Innovative Infocomm Product or Solution with its self-service terminal, which enables users who may not be able to get a bank account - such as migrant workers - to perform small banking transactions.

These include topping up the pre-paid value on their mobile phones, making small remittances and repaying micro-loans.

"Our vision is to empower the migrant community around the world. This fits into Singapore's goal to be an inclusive smart nation," said Numoni founder and chief executive Norma Sit.

DBS Bank won the award for Most Innovative Use of Infocomm Technology in the private sector category, for its use of analytics to reduce the instances of ATMs running out of cash. The bank managed to cut such occurrences by more than 90 per cent at its 1,100 ATMs across the island.

Said Mr Nimish Panchmatia, DBS managing director of consumer banking operations: "The next thing we're looking at is how to predict failure in machine parts."

Singapore District Cooling, a Singapore Power subsidiary, emerged top in the small and medium-sized enterprises category for its electronic form generator app, iTransform. It reduces mountains of paper forms - a headache for plant maintenance technicians - into user-friendly data.

The winners were picked from a total of 164 submissions.

They were presented with their prizes by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a ceremony held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre yesterday.

Ready for the Smart life?
Insight looks at what stands in the way of Singapore becoming a Smart Nation and why it matters
By Charissa Yong And Rachel Au-yong, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2014

IMAGINE commuter transport synchronised to your personal needs, roads of driverless cars, robot-run restaurants, and even sensors that alert public officers that someone is smoking where they should not.

This could be the scenario of a Singapore running even more efficiently than ever, in a vision for a Smart Nation spelt out on Monday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. It involves individuals, government and businesses alike working in concert via the nationwide, integrated use of data analytics, sensor networks, information communication and phone apps.

This new goal - with a 10-year target - builds on initiatives to be a smart city, and also an Intelligent Nation 2015. But before jaundiced types wonder if Singapore is not already smart or intelligent enough, the latest drive, if successful, would take things up a notch amid the current batch of smart cities of the world.

Showing how much it matters, the Smart Nation Programme Office has been put under the Prime Minister's Office, with a minister in charge, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, rather than coming under a statutory board, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), as previous smart city efforts were. No wonder. At stake is a potential loss of economic competitiveness, not to mention a missed opportunity to improve Singaporeans' lives, say experts.

"If Singapore does not try new things, it will slip behind other global cities, because innovations will not happen here but elsewhere, like Silicon Valley," said the executive director of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*Star) Science and Engineering Research Council, Dr Tan Geok Leng.

What stands in the way

TO BECOME a smart nation, Singapore must overcome two problems. The first is to do with analysing big data - the massive volume of data created by every digital process and social media exchange, which can yield groundbreaking insights and solutions to longstanding problems. Are these systems secure, and can citizens maintain their privacy?

Several incidents have called the robustness of Singapore networks' security into question: Some government websites were vandalised last year, while 1,500 SingPass accounts were accessed illegally in July.

PM Lee acknowledged at the Smart Nation launch: "I don't think (our cyber-security functions) are as strong as we would like them to be." Indeed, the IDA just announced that it is rolling out two-factor authentication for SingPass next year.

Then there are the inevitable concerns about privacy.

The public sector is excluded from the Personal Data Protection Act, but as more private companies come on board the smart nation push, more data will be made available to them and citizens, intentionally or not.

For example, the United States-based, non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation has flagged the possibility of smart meters - which provide real-time readings of household energy use - revealing changes in a person's routine and the types of electronic equipment in the home.

This has implications for personal privacy and home security, but A*Star's Dr Tan, who was instrumental in drawing up Singapore's road map for infocomm development for the next 10 years, thinks such concerns can come at great cost for the country. "The fear of privacy (loss) can't be so strong that you tie yourself up and don't do anything," he tells Insight. "We must protect the rights of the individual, but also use technology to improve the city. If you're constrained, you cannot move."

The second problem is that Singaporeans - especially in business settings - can be overly conservative in adopting new technologies.

It is a daily frustration for Mr Raj Singh, director of cloud-based IT firm Vanpeak, who gripes that many local companies are resistant to cloud-based data-storage solutions, preferring to use paper. This results in unnecessary duplication and costs, he says. "People have to change their mindsets," he says. "Technology isn't just for people in their private lives. Nor does it mean sophisticated robots. Sometimes it's just about better ways of doing business."

At the same time, a smartphone does not a "smart person" make - despite the high penetration of smartphones and broadband access here, there may not be enough people with the right skills.

Consulting firm McKinsey estimates the US alone faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with analytical expertise, and another 1.5 million managers who can make decisions based on analysis of big data. Over here, computer science degrees were shunned in the aftermath of the bust of the early 2000s, according to university enrolment figures.

However, good salaries and a fun work culture have recently pushed up demand - the number of National University of Singapore applicants listing the School of Computing as first or second choice jumped about 50 per cent over the last three years.

With higher demand come higher cut-off scores: Previously, A-level students could enter with three Bs. Now, they need at least two As.

But even as the calibre of such students rises, "in the States, the best programmers have years and years of programming experience under their belt before they move into college",says Mr Wee Yeong Wei, 25, who works at a leading data analytics software firm.

The Government is all too aware: On Monday, PM Lee urged schools to expose students to IT and programming, and added that, in some countries, learning the basics of coding is mandatory.

Living in a smart nation

SOME fear that the less tech-savvy, especially the elderly, will get left behind. This is why building a smart nation "should not be just about adopting new and 'cool' technologies", but about meeting the unique needs of people, says IBM's public-sector business development manager Khoo Peng Han. "Like a good highway, the value of connectivity to a smart nation is not about the speed that can be achieved, but the destinations it serves and the services along its path that benefit its users," he says.

One way to serve seniors, for example, is to make sure information is accessible to them, not just through a smart device, but also electronic signs, says Forrester Research telco analyst Clement Teo.

For example, there could be boards with text that can be updated, or speakers that can play a message in different languages, at void decks.

Citizens can get on board too, such as coming up with creative ways of analysing official data themselves, says tech blogger Alfred Siew.

For example, people can come together to write apps or even launch start-ups, using data shared by the Government. Over 8,000 government datasets are available on the website under the Open Data initiative. Since 2011, over 130 apps have been created with such data.

These include The Great Singapore Rat Race, which helps users visualise their starting pay according to university or course of study.

What we have going for us

THE fact that while other cities talk about becoming smart cities, the Republic is envisioning being a smart nation illustrates Singapore's two key advantages.

First, the smart nation push is a national effort, with the weight of the Government behind it.

PM Lee emphasised the importance of a cohesive effort, saying: "Today, the government departments are all doing their own things: LTA (Land Transport Authority), URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority), MOM (Ministry of Manpower) and so on. Our research institutes are doing their own things. We need to bring them together. And we can go much further if we can put it together, deploy them effectively to benefit the whole nation."

In this way, Singapore overcomes the problem of different groups hoarding their own data for reasons like sensitivity, says A*Star's Dr Tan. "The more you're able to aggregate the data, the more you're able to see what's going on. By setting up this smart nation platform under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office, we can make sure we can collate the data. That gives us an advantage over other people, who may not have the vehicle to bring about this sharing."

Others also point to the speed at which the Government makes and implements decisions. "Some nations or cities may argue forever about privacy concerns that come with the use of big data. Singapore tends to be less bogged down by such things," says Professor Bernard Tan of the National University of Singapore's Information Systems Department.

Second, Singapore's small size means that infrastructure can be quickly deployed, say experts like Professor Lim Ee Peng, director of the Singapore Management University's Living Analytics Research Centre.

In fact, the World Economic Forum's annual Global IT Report consistently ranks Singapore as the second most ready country in the world to make use of its big data and infocomm infrastructure. It has held its rank since 2010, beaten to the top spot only by Sweden or Finland.

The report looks at a country's mobile network coverage, international Internet bandwidth, secure Internet servers, and electricity production, among others.

But while "Singapore offers a finite, well-defined environment to test and experiment, we also encounter a disadvantage compared to larger countries with multiple cities", says Mr Shrinivas Kowligi, who leads IBM's Smarter Cities initiative for Asean.

With a smaller consumer base, it is harder to attract the investment needed to adopt technology in a big way, he says.

Still, A*Star's Dr Tan says this is not a problem, as other countries and firms partner research institutes here on projects for technology solutions that can also be applied elsewhere.

The future is also on Singapore's side if it learns to "fail fast and learn quickly", as PM Lee said on Monday.

"We will encourage experimentation. When we fail, we will learn quickly and try again," echoes Mr Tan Kok Yam, head of the Smart Nation Programme Office in a statement to Insight.

Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith, who heads University College London's smart cities and urban analytics course, tells Insight that "smart cities will grow naturally over time via new apps, personal devices and data from citizens". "So even if the first early trials fail, the next 50 years will see the rise of the smart city as a truly automated, networked system".

All in all, Singapore has much of the makings of a smart nation, argue those optimistic about its prospects - the runway is there. What remains is the take-off.

Sensors galore and an eye in the sky


More than 1,000 sensors that measure levels of humidity, light, noise, sulphur dioxide, haze particles in the air and temperature will be installed in the town. They will be used to monitor and control traffic lights or detect illegal smoking, among other things.


A new satellite-based electronic road pricing system (ERP2) in the works could charge a motorist based on how far he travels on congested roads, and can track the precise position of each car. The data will be anonymous, however, and aggregated with that of many others who move in a similar pattern.


Future homes can come equipped with energy sensors that monitor how much energy each appliance consumes. This information can make it easier for residents to reduce their overall energy usage.

Motion sensors can track the movements of senior citizens at home, and alert caregivers if the seniors exhibit irregular movements, for instance, if they fall or faint.

What other smart cities are doing
By Rachel Au-yong, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2014


RUNNING on an 8.67-million-euro (S$14 million) budget and backed by the EU, this northern Spanish city is the first comprehensive "smart city" in Europe.

A central database - fed by more than 12,000 sensors on lamp posts, in gardens and cellphones - is responsible for coordinating municipal services.

For example, sensors in bins measure how much rubbish they contain, and notify waste management services for collection when almost full.

The city has also opened up about 75 data sets to citizens and businesses, so that they can develop apps and new services.

Santander is also looking at introducing technologies to enable the city to be even more efficient in the delivery of services, to "do the same things with less budget", and to involve businesses in the process.


THIS South Korean city, 56km from Seoul, was built from scratch: on 607ha of reclaimed land sits the largest private real estate development in the world.

By its completion next year, its 80,000 apartments, 4.6 million sq m of office space and 930,000 sq m of retail space will be linked to each other virtually, through its information systems.

Every home in this S$47 billion project will have a telepresence system, allowing users to control heating and locks remotely, as well as use video-conferencing to deliver and receive education and health care.


THE Big Apple uses a city- wide, data-sharing platform from 20 agencies and external organisations, which can be then translated into a visual map for city managers to study.

For example, the Mayor's Office of Data Analytics worked with tech firm IBM on an algorithm, which directs the city's fire department to inspect over 300,000 buildings in the city and identifying those with similar characteristics of having had serious fires historically.

This "risk map" means that the fire department is able to cut its response time to inspecting the worst conditions by nearly two-thirds.

The city also makes available to entrepreneurs a "business atlas", allowing them to create business plans based on data like economic activity, demographics, and foot traffic.

Smart nation push: Public to get access to more govt data
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 6 Dec 2014

MORE government data will be made available to the public to develop innovative solutions as Singapore strides forward on its smart nation journey.

This must however be balanced against the need to protect the privacy of people as well as the national security of the country.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister in charge of Singapore's smart nation programme, said: "National security, privacy and identity are the amber zones. For everything else, the default mode (for data) should be to share."

Speaking to the media last night at the Singapore Maker Festival - a gathering of tech tinkers and enthusiasts - Dr Balakrishnan lauded existing efforts to share government data publicly but added that even more can be done.

Instead of just sharing the raw data for developers to create apps, public agencies can consider sharing the building blocks of government apps already developed - or application programming interface (API) in geekspeak - so innovators can quickly build improved versions without having to recode everything from scratch.

Dr Balakrishnan also said that seniors, young people and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the first three groups that the Government will prioritise in its smart nation push.

With seniors, the aim is to ensure that they are not left behind in the digital divide. Remote monitoring of the elderly at home empowers them to lead independent lives while letting their families have peace of mind. Plans are also under way to make technology more accessible to them, including increasing the number of citizen connect centres where they can reset their SingPass accounts and get help on e-citizen services.

For young people, it is important to help them acquire the necessary tools such as having programming skills and computational thinking which helps develop good problem-solving abilities.

"This has to become almost standard literacy in the digital age," Dr Balakrishnan added.

The smart nation initiative will benefit SMEs in two areas. First, said Dr Balakrishnan, it will be cheaper to produce prototypes when facilities such as those for 3D printing become widely available. "This will lower barriers to entry," he added. Second, new technology and services will provide for new streams of revenue.

The minister said becoming a smart nation is not about adopting technology solutions for the sake of technology but using it to meet the needs of people and improve lives. "This is about human beings, not about machines. It is about what people need, not what technology can offer," he added.

He also addressed public concerns about privacy and the potential high costs of adopting new technologies. Changes to the law may be necessary to address privacy issues more comprehensively such as those to do with security, identity theft and data abuse, he said.

Dr Balakrishnan added that programmes will be put in place to ensure no one is left out because of costs. Similar to the need to extend public Wi-Fi to even more places such as nooks and crannies in tunnels, he said: "We must close up the final dark shadows so that there are no digital shadows in our society."

* Smart Nation an opportunity to ‘shift tone of society’: Vivian Balakrishnan
Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation Programme Office Vivian Balakrishnan says the office hopes to change "the tone of society" from one reliant on the Government to one with a problem-solving mindset, enabled by information and tools from a Smart Nation.
By Kevin Kwang, Channel NewsAsia, 1 Apr 2015

“There is a revolution going on,” said Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation Programme Office (SNPO) Vivian Balakrishnan, and Singapore needs to be ahead of the wave, just as it was 50 years ago when it decided to open its shores and embrace globalisation.

This is the underlying premise of the Smart Nation vision expounded by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last November, when he said: “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.”

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia in an interview on Wednesday (Apr 1), Dr Balakrishnan said the “revolution” involves the advent of personal computing, the World Wide Web, high-resolution video, robotics, big data analytics and 3D printing.

“These are not just tools, but platform technologies. That means they are going to transform – the way we live, work, play, socialise, communicate, organise ourselves, educate ourselves and the way our economic activities are going to be pursued. So there is a revolution going on,” he said.


How will the Smart Nation vision become a reality? Dr Balakrishnan said some “essential ingredients” are needed: A world-class infrastructure; a capability layer; and a global ecosystem.

The first ingredient is already in place, what with the Next-generation Nationwide Broadband Network and extensive wireless network available. The Government is also actively making sure access to the Internet, and with it access to services and products, is affordable via market competition and subsidies to those who need it, he said.

As for the capability layer, the minister said “education is a key element”. “So for instance, to have computing as a ‘O’ Level option. To teach all students, starting from primary school, some basics of programming or computational thinking,” he said.

For working adults, it is the opportunity to pick up new skills that are relevant to their jobs, or even be equipped with skills for jobs that are not yet created is another aspect that needs to be developed, he noted.

On the ecosystem level, this would involve creating an environment where people with an idea are able to quickly prototype it, test it out then get it on to the market. Additionally, there should be financing made available, and people with market access and networks in place so as to help these start-ups grow and become a regional or international market players, he explained.


However, the Smart Nation vision requires data as a fuel to run, and much of it comes from the individual. When asked how much data one has to give up in order for the vision to be realised, Dr Balakrishnan said data sharing and privacy is not a matter of how much permission a person gives.

Rather, people need to want to participate in this, he said, and when that happens, then data sharing is voluntary and not coerced.

The Government, on its part, will make sure the data used will be anonymised so that personal details are not compromised, yet user patterns can be derived, the minister said.

For example, data of one’s public transport consumption can be tracked without one’s personal identifiers, such as IC number or address, revealed. This way, service providers will know where the peak consumer demands are during specific time periods, and cater their resources accordingly, he explained.

It is also making efforts to make sure data made public are accurate and in real-time. This will enhance credibility and build trust with the citizenry, he explained.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, gave the example of flood data. It used to be that on Twitter, #sgflood was used by the more cynical because of floods that happen. But today, most of the tweets with the hashtag are from his ministry. Specifically, the more than 200 sensors embedded in drains around Singapore would automatically trigger a tweet via PUB to deliver information on water levels and flood probability, he revealed.

On the flipside, people have been taking data privacy “for granted”. Many, particularly the younger generation, tend to share things online or on social media platforms that might not be appropriate, and this might allow those with malicious intent to exploit. It might also affect their job prospects should potential employers chance on a Facebook rant or YouTube video that should not be shared.

“Please be more careful,” the minister stressed.


On the issue of cybersecurity, Dr Balakrishnan admitted that his “biggest nightmare” is the occurrence of a major security breach and the loss of personal, private data.

“That would set our efforts back many, many years because trust and confidence breaks down. Then people will be unwilling to share things that ought to be shared, and then we’re not able to generate new solutions,” he said. “Openness and security are two sides of the same coin.”

This is why the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), headed by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, was announced soon after the Prime Minister announced the Smart Nation Vision, he said. The CSA turned operational today, and will oversee national cybersecurity issues and policies.

He added that a “healthy tension” between SNPO and CSA is “good”, because it means they are looking at situations with different lenses, which would prevent either from being blindsided by potential issues or problems.


Ultimately, realising the Smart Nation vision will also result in the “shift in tone” in Singapore's society – from being reliant on the Government to solve all problems, to one where citizens are able to make use of the information available and come up with solutions for real-life problems.

“It won’t be one where a problem comes along and Government has to solve it and people will just passively follow,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

“In the future, when a new opportunity or problem arises, the data will be there and everyone will have access to the data. You have a good idea, and it works, then it can be rapidly prototyped and upscaled – it is truly an exercise in co-creation.

“It’s not a dependent, suspicious, passive and apathetic society. We will have the truly active Singaporean in an active society,” he added.

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