The future of a Smart Singapore in good hands

As a Smart Nation Scholar, Mr Yong Ming Yang hopes he can help expand Singapore’s capabilities in artificial intelligence and virtual reality technology. PHOTO: YONG MING YANG
As a Smart Nation Scholar, Mr Yong Ming Yang hopes he can help expand Singapore’s capabilities in artificial intelligence and virtual reality technology. PHOTO: YONG MING YANG

The Smart Nation Scholarship nurtures Singapore’s next generation of technology professionals such as Mr Yong Ming Yang, Mr Yin Yi De and Ms Ong Jing Yin

A patient walks into a doctor’s office. His gait is steady and his movements limber, but every so often the left side of his mouth twists slightly, involuntarily.

Within seconds, an artificial intelligence (AI) programme has run several possible outcomes from that one facial tic alone, cross-referenced against a database of millions of other patients in the system. One of the possible outcomes: a 20 to 30 per cent chance of early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

This is the future that Smart Nation Scholar Yong Ming Yang sees for Singapore, where every aspect of life is enhanced through the application of technology.

“AI is extremely proficient in identifying patterns. For instance, in A&E wards, it can identify patients whose conditions are likely to drastically worsen, so doctors and nurses can provide aid to those who need it the most,” he says. 

The 20-year-old also hopes for widespread implementation of virtual reality (VR) technology in households across Singapore, particularly for the elderly. 

“VR could possibly be a platform to allow the less-mobile elderly to interact online and make friends, to combat their loneliness,” he says. “Technology like this has the potential to really revolutionise our daily lives for the better.”

Such passion for technology is befitting of Mr Yong, one of Singapore’s pioneer recipients of the Smart Nation Scholarship, jointly awarded by the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA), the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

In August, he will begin his studies at the National University of Singapore for a double degree in computer science and business, which he hopes will equip him with the necessary skills to contribute to IMDA. 

The scholarship aims to nurture technology talents and leaders, giving them opportunities to blaze trails in applied technology for the public good.

Mr Yin Yi De hopes that his background in economics and data science will synergise with his interests in programming. PHOTO: YIN YI DE

Another recipient of the scholarship, Mr Yin Yi De, intends to combine his knowledge of economics and data science with his passion for programming, in order to contribute to Singapore’s Smart Nation goals.

The 23-year-old economics graduate from University College London is currently pending acceptance to a Master’s degree in computing science, after which he will take up a position at GovTech.

He says: “Data science has massive potential to drive progress for Singapore. It can empower our decision-makers to carry out evidence-based decision-making, which will help us maximise the use of limited resources, and target important issues that have a real impact on the lives of Singaporeans.”

Mr Yin discovered his love of programming after taking some computing electives in his second year as an undergraduate. 

“During the course, I was immediately drawn to the process of algorithmic thinking and the immense satisfaction of building a working program from scratch,” he says. “By the end of it, I was sold. I began to seriously consider pivoting towards programming as a career.”

He cites the Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP) as an example of how data science could be revolutionary. The SNSP envisions a network of sensors mounted on lampposts for agencies to collect a variety of data. This helps them to get a better sense of the city and improve service delivery.

With the right application of data science techniques and analysis, the data could be used for better urban planning, timely maintenance of physical infrastructure, and more efficient provision of municipal services.

“The people of our generation and younger are uniquely poised to become a skilled workforce that can keep up to date with advancements in infocomm technology (ICT), and even participate in advancements themselves,” he says. 

“It’s crucial that young people get involved in ICT work, so that Singapore may continue to thrive in a challenging global economic environment.”

A hacking incident she experienced led Ms Ong Jing Yin to study to become a cybersecurity specialist at the forefront of Singapore’s digital defences. PHOTO: ONG JING YIN

Even as technology holds much promise for Singapore’s future, another Smart Nation Scholar, Ms Ong Jing Yin, knows how crucial it is to reinforce the cyber defences of our connected nation.

Ms Ong, 21, is one of the first Smart Nation Scholars under the CSA, and an up-and-coming cybersecurity specialist. 

Her journey into the field is a little more personal than most others’. Her father was an IT consultant, whose stories about his security work in business and organisations piqued her curiosity and had her pursuing a degree in computer science. 

In 2017, she attended the Cyber Defenders Discovery Camp organised by the Defence Science and Technology Agency, and thoroughly realised the importance of cybersecurity. During the camp, an “adversary” stealthily hacked into her systems, using her team’s assets to infect the entire hall — and her team had been none the wiser. 

“That incident revealed the unseen, silent and stealthy nature of cyber attacks to me,” she says. “If this was carried out on a national level, it could disable critical sectors and inflict severe damage on a nation, its industries and its people.”

So when she heard about the Smart Nation Scholarship and the opportunities it would give her to work with CSA, she needed no further convincing to go for it. 

“Cybersecurity is essential for national security and economic progress,” she explains. “Not having a strong cyber security force puts Singapore’s critical information infrastructure and advancement at risk.

“With a global race to build cyber capabilities, a strong pool of engineering talent — particularly in young people — is needed to keep up with rapid technology changes and growing sophistication of cyber attacks.”

But one doesn’t have to work in ICT in order to be involved in Singapore’s march towards becoming a digital economy. According to Mr Yin, every citizen has a part to play.

“As technology gets into more and more into every facet of our lives, it is up to the users to be proactive in controlling and limiting the negative repercussions that technology can have on our social fabric,” he says. 

“We cannot rely solely on the government and regulatory bodies to do that for us. In order to control it, we need to at least understand it.”