Singaporeans have developed a self-image based on technological advancement, particularly in the use of computers. This is a wired city par excellence, in which technology drives the collection and analysis of data to improve life, even as Internet connectivity creates access to seamless cyberspace to open up personal and social opportunities. Keeping pace with technology has become second nature in a city-state whose chief resources are human and not physical. Technology is a great enabler as well in Singapore's efforts to remain relevant to shifting patterns of demand and supply that contour the global economy. Today's Singapore cannot be imagined without the technological infrastructure that sustains it.
Yet, tomorrow's Singapore will need even greater investment in information technology (IT), as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made clear in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday. The challenge for the Smart Nation project is to make the most of a trend that is changing lives profoundly at the global level, and turn it to national advantage. The creation of well-paying jobs and business opportunities will depend on the degree to which Singaporeans leverage on technological innovations to expand and deepen their economic space. The creative destruction at the heart of change will affect all citizens and hit some harder than others, a case in point being parking aunties when a mobile parking app is introduced later this year. Efforts will have to be made to help those affected, but the Smart Nation will remain beyond reach forever if change is resisted. Indeed, everyone will be made worse off by attempts to block progress.
The practical effects of the ongoing Smart Nation project will be felt both at the everyday level - as with the decision to do away with paper coupons for parking - and in critical fields such as public safety and security. Plans to turn every lamp post into one that can transmit information gathered from surveillance cameras and sensors across the country are an example. Here, the use of artificial intelligence technology will extend the state's surveillance capacity at a time when a terror attack on Singapore is a matter not of "if" but of "when". The Smart Nation concept will help to address other issues as well, such as caring for the unattended elderly who need timely help at home. Indeed, the changing needs of an ageing society, and the lack of manpower with which to deal with emerging issues, make the transition to smart nationhood an urgent necessity.
Singaporeans need to embrace the boldness of this vision collectively. The Smart Nation involves not only the hardware of technology but the software of the mind as well. The not-so-young in particular will need some coaxing to display the mental agility needed to exploit the advantages of technological change.