Senior citizens, students and SMEs first to benefit from smart nation initiative: Vivian

SINGAPORE - Seniors, youths and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the first three groups to have special attention as the Government rolls out its Smart Nation initiative.

Speaking to the media before the start of the Singapore Maker Festival, a gathering of inventors and DIY tech enthusiasts, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Programme Vivian Balakrishnan said becoming a smart nation is not about adopting technology solutions for the sake of technology but using it to meet the needs of people and improve their lives.

"This is about human beings, not about machines. It is about what people need, not what technology can offer," said Dr Balakrishnan, who is also the Minister for Environment And Water Resources.

With seniors, the aim is to ensure that they are not left behind. For example, remote monitoring of elderly people when they are at home empowers them to lead independent lives while allowing their families to have peace of mind.

The elderly can also look forward to more services that will help them learn more about Singapore's future smart nation services. Currently, there are 25 citizen connect centres where they can apply or reset their Singpass, book public sports facilities and apply for work permits.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "We want to make sure no segment of society will be left behind and there must not be a digital divide."

As for youths, Singapore must prepare them for the future by "making sure they are literate for the digital age." To be ready, the younger generation will have to learn how to approach a problem computationally before they can look for possible solutions by creating options, refining and debugging them. "This has to become almost standard literacy," he added.

The smart nation initiative will benefit small and medium businesses in two areas.

First, said Dr Balakrishnan, it will be cheaper to produce prototypes when facilities such as those for 3-D printing become widely available. "This will lower barriers to entry," he added.

Second, new technology and services will provide for more streams of revenue.

In his briefing, the minister also touched on concerns raised by the public, including privacy and costs.

Legislative changes may be proposed in order to address privacy issues more comprehensively such as those to do with security, identity theft and data abuse, he said.

As for cost, it "must not be a limiting factor." He added: "While the cost of computing had gone down, there will be vulnerable groups and we should have targeted programmes to help these groups."