As the minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan made a speech on 28 February 2019. The speech addressed Singapore’s progress and vision as a Smart Nation. He also touched on the initiative’s progress, milestones, and future.
Singapore As A Smart Nation
The Smart Nation Initiative aims to increase Singapore’s use and application of technology to improve and grow its people and Singapore is deemed a Smart Nation because of its significant technological advancements and usage.
And why do people like this term? According to his speech, being a Smart Nation has allowed Singapore to create more job opportunities as well as improve specific skill sets.
Are There More Or Less Jobs Available?
The former is debatable because many people feel that technology is taking jobs away from people. Human switchboard operators, bowling alley pinsetters, and lift operators are long gone. These task-repetitive jobs have been replaced by robots, and God knows how long until the rest of the jobs will be taken over too.
The latter is more straightforward. Thanks to the use of technology, people are able to enhance their expertise in a way that they couldn’t before. The obvious fields include science and technology, but it can be applied to every industry.
With the right training, people working in the field can gather more knowledge to improve their performance and offer their companies more insights than robots.
Current Benefits For Citizens
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan noted that there is increased convenience in daily life as technology is being integrated into many areas of our day to day lives.
Specifically, he mentioned MyInfo, SingPass Mobile, PayNow, and The Moments of Life. All these are applications that can be accessed from your phone. Government services have also been integrated seamlessly for citizens to have easy use.
MyInfo is straightforward – you can safely apply for credit cards online and get them approved and activated almost instantly.
The Moments of Life app says that it is to manage your child’s early years. It even includes an auto-filled birth registration form. While this is convenient for parents since they already have so much on their hands, the more traditional folk may disagree.
Will having auto-filled forms that commemorate your child’s birth make it any less heart-warming? We will never know until we try.
Most people use the SingPass Mobile app to check on government tasks and updates such as bonds, employment, and education. This has made life easier for many as everything is accessible with a few clicks.
But the most notable would have to be the banking app PayNow. Students love this app for easy transfers to friends after a shared meal and adults use it to pay bills or give allowances.
It looks like there is more to look forward to because linking your NRIC to your account gives you access to your SG Bonus, Edusave, and even CPF. Great news for all, but there might be some difficulty with withdrawing CPF funds for non-tech savvy retirees. They will likely have to stick to the cheque system.
The team behind CPF withdrawal on PayNow could have a physical counter to help retirees. Setting up a process that helps the elderly instantly get a certain amount each month without waiting for cheques would be of great help.
Creating A Safer Living Environment
Speaking of elderly aid, Smart Nation also has created safety features with the ageing population in mind.
The Personal Alert Button helps the elderly call for help when they are immobilised. This will be extremely useful if they are alone, unwell, or have a bad fall. Dr Vivian Balakrishnan noted that not only the older generation will use this as he referred to Minister Khaw’s fall that left him in immense agony and pain.
In the water, there is a drowning detection system that helps lifeguards ensure that all swimmers are safe. On land, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said that “NEA has installed 50,000 Smart Gravitraps, to help monitor and to help destroy breeding sites of dengue-spreading Aedes mosquitoes”.
Living by the quote “prevention is better than cure”, we foresee that such preventive technology will help to protect the general public.
This has been clearly proven by the MyResponder app. It is an app created by the SCDF’s 995 Ops Centre that connects volunteers to a user suffering from a Cardiac Arrest Case and it has saved about 13 heart attacks victims so far.
However, user reviews are not as welcoming. Some detest the constant notifications while others think that the radius is too large. Most people do think that it is great that people are helping out, especially if they are qualified in CPR.
With future technological advancements and the implementation of more artificial intelligence, these apps could be even more helpful.
Improving Singapore’s Economy
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan also mentioned that the Smart Nation Initiative aims to restructure Singapore’s economy and increase competitiveness. It aims to do so by giving more access to local companies.
E-payments are everywhere to provide more convenience for consumers in this going-cashless society. Becoming a cashless society has its followers and haters due to its pros and cons. There will seemingly be less crime because thieves cannot steal any money and stealing cards can easily be traced. You can rack up rewards points as shopping in-store, online, and overseas is done with a swipe of a card.
Alas, that simple swipe also brings many problems. Not seeing the physical money might make people unknowingly spend more and end up in debt. Without the internet or technology, you won’t be able to access your money. And if your bank is hacked, there goes all your money. It is also not as accessible for the poor, those without bank accounts, and the non-tech savvy.
A Better Quality Of Life
Every invention is created with the intention of increasing convenience and quality of performing a task. In Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s words, Smart Nation uses technology to “save time, reduce transaction costs and increase efficiency”.
Besides the aforementioned apps, there is also Parking.SG and Healthy 365 to make daily life easier. Parking.SG is used by more than 60% of car owners to pay for parking, and Smart Nation wants to make a function to help drivers find the parking lot.
GovTech, URA, and MSO will trial smart sensors in 2019 to make that goal a reality. That will increase parking efficiency by many folds, but it could lead to many more people using their phones while they’re driving.
MOH’s Healthy 365 has had over 1.7 million users in the last 4 years. The National Steps Challenge has made non-active people try to be more healthy and it has made non-techie people wear fitness trackers.
Technology is an amazing way to get people to get out of their houses and start moving as it makes it more engaging. The use of VR and tracked data also makes things more interesting, as seen in the huge Pokémon Go app.
The Future Of Smart Nation
So, what does the future hold? Dr Vivian Balakrishnan says that instead of just helping the general public, Smart Nation aims to make things more “tailor-made to the individual needs of citizens”.
While that will be of added convenience, it sounds like there will be more tracking user data. Privacy protection is always in place, but this could be of concern for those who are concerned about data leaks and personal privacy. Thankfully, that does not seem to be a case as they hope to be more responsive to each person’s specific need with the use of artificial intelligence.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said that artificial intelligence “will greatly improve our lives and our economy” because it has already “revolutionised the scene in recent years”. We agree!
Moving forward, The Nation Research foundation will be uniting all relevant research institutions and AI start-ups together with AI Singapore. GovTech will have a centre of excellence in data science to enable more people and companies to use such AI solutions. MCI is also creating guidelines to encourage proper use of AI for any individual.
160 AI use cases have been identified, including “recommend content to students based on past successes and engagement with the material” and “detect student distress early”.
Combining Government knowledge, real business issues, and AI experts, Smart Nation hopes to help everyone understand the relevant knowledge and skills to use AI.
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