Building infrastructure, investing in R&D part of developing S'pore's digital economy: Josephine Teo

Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo at the Singapore Digital Economy Forum held on Aug 23, 2022. PHOTO: BUSINESS CHINA

SINGAPORE - Singapore is laying the foundation to support the development of its digital economy and protect users from the potential dangers embedded in the emerging technologies involved.

These include building additional infrastructure, investing in research and development, and growing talent, especially as new technologies like the metaverse and Web 3.0 emerge, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said at the Singapore Digital Economy Forum held at Raffles Hotel on Tuesday (Aug 23).

The forum was organised by non-profit organisation Business China to connect international industry players and relevant government agencies to support Singapore’s smart nation and digital economy vision.

Web 3.0 is the third evolution of the Web, with blockchain as the core technology, which holds the promise that users can own their data, identity and content, she explained.

Meanwhile, the metaverse is more of a front-end revolution impacting how people experience the Internet and engage with each other, using virtual and augmented reality, for instance.

Indeed, investments are being channelled to such emerging technologies, with venture capitalists putting more than US$33 billion (S$46 billion) into cryptocurrency and Web 3.0 start-ups last year.

In the first five months of this year, more than US$120 billion has been invested in metaverse technology and infrastructure, according to reports.

This is where the Government steps in to help grow Singapore's economic competitiveness and status as a trusted data hub while ensuring online safety and consumer data protection, Mrs Teo said.

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Tan Kiat How, who also spoke at the forum, said in a later address: "As at today, no government has passed laws or formulated regulations, specifically designed to address concerns arising from metaverse.

"So for us in Singapore, I think we have to also be mindful of balancing regulations with allowing innovations and also be sensible and pragmatic about it."

He added that sandboxes, or environments for testing software, have been launched to look into personal data protection, among other issues.

Besides regulations and maintaining online safety, Mrs Teo said building infrastructure is vital, especially as these emerging technologies require 5G connectivity.

Singapore will also continue to invest in R&D. It is already investing $25 billion over five years in research, innovation and enterprise.

Importantly, it also has to grow talent in these areas.

"Our skills development programmes will be sharpened to enable more Singaporeans to access opportunities created in new digital domains," said Mrs Teo, adding that the Government will have to work more closely with the industry to ensure that the tech workforce remains relevant.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority has partnered the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Singapore Institute of Technology to launch a new Bachelor of Science in Applied Computing, with specialisation in fintech, she added.

Financial institutions such as banks will help to plan the curriculum and ensure its relevance, while students will be trained to acquire tech skills in blockchain and machine learning, and be ready to fill high-demand roles in fintech.

But apart from local talent, Singapore must also be open to top talent from all over the world to continue working with locals in new spheres, Mr Tan said, alluding to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech on Sunday, where he talked about attracting and retaining top talent.

A panel discussion at the Singapore Digital Economy Forum with (from left) Lianhe Zaobao’s Shen Yue, DigiFT founder Li Wanli, Marketnode CEO Martin Pickrodt and Cobo co-founder Jiang Changhao. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Addressing the audience at the forum, Mr Tan said: "We want to continue to work with you to bring good talent, top talent to Singapore to build up the ecosystem here, generate more opportunities and create good jobs for Singaporeans... So continue to tap on these talents and the access to different markets and jurisdictions so we can continue to grow our ecosystem in Singapore to actually support global opportunities around the world."

Besides global talent, international and regional partnerships are also vital, in establishing norms to support data flows while opening doors for businesses, Mrs Teo said.

She added that through initiatives like the Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Smart City initiative, businesses in both countries enjoy greater access to new markets and business opportunities.

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