'Big advantage' for societies that harness and create new tech

As the world teeters on the cusp of a digital revolution, societies that can harness and create new technologies will enjoy "an enormous advantage".

In comparison, societies "wedded to the old ways of doing things" may have a harder time coping with new realities, said Foreign Minister and Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan at the second annual Asian Undergraduate Summit yesterday.

Singapore needs to develop various skill areas and support systems to stay ahead of these changes, he added.

This includes understanding computational thinking - which involves problem solving by drawing on concepts linked to computer science.

"We don't need to make everyone a programmer, but they need to understand the basics... the potential and limitations of technology and devices," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan said skills beyond computing are also needed, including soft skills such as having an artistic sense that allows technology to resonate with people.

The Singapore leg of the summit, which kicked off yesterday, is organised by students from the University Scholars Programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

It focuses on how citizen participation can be maximized when coming up with "smart city" solutions that tap innovation and technology to improve lives in urban development.

More than 40 NUS students visited cities in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam to learn more about innovative urban solutions last month ahead of the meeting in Singapore.

About 100 students from Singapore and regional countries will spend the next few days attending talks and workshops, ending with presentations on Saturday.

They will also visit organisations here, including the Singapore-ETH Centre, a research centre set up by ETH Zurich and the National Research Foundation.

Miss Shermaine Yeo, 21, chairman of this year's summit, said the workshops this year will adopt a design thinking approach that seeks to create innovative solutions that address the needs of the user.

Miss Yeo, a business administration and economics student, said: "They will apply the design thinking framework using Singapore's smart city initiatives, but we're hoping that that they will take these tools back to their countries to apply (them) to other issues.

"They can also compare and contrast the challenges that different countries face when it comes to smart cities."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline ''Big advantage' for societies that harness and create new tech'. Print Edition | Subscribe