Call for move to become nation of tech producers

Vivian seeks actionable feedback from Smart Nation ambassadors in digitalisation push

Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan (top right) during a virtual dialogue with Smart Nation Ambassadors.
Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan (top right) during a virtual dialogue with Smart Nation Ambassadors.PHOTO: SMART NATIONAL AND DIGITAL GOVERNMENT OFFICE

The Covid-19 pandemic has hastened Singapore's pace of digitalisation, but the next step is to move from being a nation of technology consumers to a nation of technology producers, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

Speaking during a virtual dialogue with 100 Smart Nation ambassadors, he recalled how being bad at video games pushed him to learn programming.

"When I first started with computers, I quickly realised I was a very lousy gamer, and my main impetus for learning programming was to hack the game in order to improve my scores," he said.

"I do worry sometimes if we will all end up becoming gamers, but not (people) capable of producing those games. And that's why this point about becoming a nation of tech producers resonates very strongly with me."

Yesterday's session was the first of three dialogues with Smart Nation ambassadors to seek their views on Singapore's technology push. The other two will be held next Monday and Thursday, with Senior Minister of State for Health and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary and Permanent Secretary (Smart Nation and Digital Government) Ng Chee Khern respectively.

There are currently more than 1,600 Smart Nation ambassadors who coach and guide others in the use of technology in their daily lives.

Dr Balakrishnan thanked them for their efforts, while also calling on them to give "frank, relevant and actionable" feedback that will be developed further by the SG Together action networks launched in June.

"This is our commitment to joint action... Rather than the Government coming up with all the prescriptive detailed solutions, I think we should spend our time describing the problem," he said.

"(It's about) sharing the challenge with the community (and the corporate sector) and saying 'Guys, how about you come up with the solution'... If you have got a better idea or solution, let's test it, let's pilot it and implement it."

He added that he is looking forward to a future where the Government and the community are co-creating and re-imagining new services "all the time".

During the virtual dialogue, participants were divided into small groups for discussion, with each group later presenting its ideas.


The issue of how to make technology more accessible, inclusive and transparent for all dominated discussions, with some participants emphasising the importance of the human touch in delivering such messages.

Others said they appreciated the WhatsApp channel that provides Covid-19 updates, praising it for its regularity and transparency, while expressing a hope that the same could be extended further across all digital outreach efforts.

Smart Nation ambassador Alice Yu, 28, said the Government did well in response to the Covid-19 outbreak by swiftly organising the distribution of masks and rolling out a range of digital services such as TraceTogether "in a few weeks".

"But with so much technology coming into our lives, there can be a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication about what it means for us," added Ms Yu.

She is founder of community group Mama on Palette, which helps equip artistically inclined stay-at-home mothers with digital tools to promote their work.


"Some might be afraid too, so public awareness and education is very important.

"My hope is for everyone in Singapore to have a fair and basic understanding of technology," she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2020, with the headline 'Call for move to become nation of tech producers'. Subscribe