By Kami Navarro
While Singapore has long been recognised as Asia’s most innovative nation, it was only in the wake of COVID-19 that the impact of national efforts to accelerate innovation became apparent. This year, the Bloomberg Innovation Index cited Singapore as the world’s second most innovative economy—cementing the Republic’s position as a leading technology innovator even amidst the challenges of the pandemic.
With all these accolades, it may seem hard to believe that the country began its investments into research and development (R&D) just over thirty years ago. It was only in 1991 that the first-ever National Technology Plan was launched to lay the groundwork for Singapore’s subsequent R&D initiatives.
Today, it is known as the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) plan, with the latest version launched by DPM Heng Swee Keat last December 2020. Under the RIE2025, S$25 billion—or one per cent of the Republic’s gross domestic product—will be committed to advancing science and technology over the next five years.
At the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the newly-formed BizTech Group is set to be at the forefront of driving the agency’s efforts to develop frontier areas, Communications & Connectivity, Artificial Intelligence & Data and Trust Technologies under the purview of RIE2025.
Currently led by cluster director Dr Ong Chen Hui—who has over two decades of experience in cybersecurity and technology innovation—the group is now looking for tech-savvy, passionate team members who can capably predict relevant technology trends and explore the vast potential of frontier technologies that will give our businesses and country a competitive advantage. In this feature, learn about how the BizTech Group will impact Singapore’s business and economy and how IMDA plans to support the country’s RIE2025 efforts—straight from Dr Ong herself.
1. Can you tell us more about IMDA’s BizTech group and what it hopes to achieve?
Over the years, Singapore has made great strides in digital technologies, which has supported the growth of our digital economy. But as we all know, COVID-19 has accelerated technological trends and changes that are drastically reshaping our global economy and creating new challenges for our societies. As DPM Heng mentioned during the RIE2025 press conference, what we do know is that in this new post-pandemic economy, science, technology and innovation will be critical.
This is where IMDA’s BizTech Group, which I lead, comes in.
The BizTech Group will have three focus areas, namely AI and Data; Communications and Connectivity; as well as Digital Trust.
Across these areas, we hope to push the boundaries of innovation and translate R&D efforts into commercially viable products that will help strengthen the competitive edge of our local enterprises.
Already, we are building from a position of strength, as a trusted innovation hub that aims to provide enterprises with business intelligence through AI as well as connections through 5G technologies—all while ensuring secure and trusted transactions. Finally, keeping in mind that people will ultimately drive these efforts, we would to build a strong base of local talent in key areas like blockchain, AI, data and connectivity.
To sum it up, you can think of us in the BizTech Group as beavers—as nature’s engineers, we make things work!
2. IMDA is spearheading efforts to rollout 5G nationwide in support of our Smart Nation and Digital Economy ambitions. How is BizTech Group leading the charge in this area?
As most of us continue to work or study from home, COVID-19 has clearly reinforced the importance of a resilient and robust digital connectivity infrastructure for the smooth functioning of essential services.
Keeping an eye on the long term, Singapore has always invested in our communications infrastructure. For example, ten years ago we invested in a nationwide fibre network that has since brought broadband access of 1 Gigabit and more to everyone and everywhere across the country.
By 2025, we are on track to have nationwide 5G standalone coverage. To make this possible, we are building our 5G efforts in three main ways:
First, by installing vital digital infrastructure. IMDA has since awarded 5G licenses to two operators. As mentioned, we are on track to have nationwide rollout by 2025, and even more excitingly, 50 per cent coverage by the end of 2022. 5G will arrive faster than you think!
Second, by establishing a pipeline of talent to develop a 5G-enabled workforce. Currently, we are working with Institutions of Higher Learning and industry partners to equip at least 5,000 members of our workforce with 5G-relevant skills.
Finally, through innovation. In 2019, IMDA earmarked a S$40 million fund to explore 5G’s use cases across strategic sectors, including Industry 4.0, smart estates and maritime operations. More recently, we set aside a S$30 million fund to accelerate the adoption and commercialisation of 5G solutions. All these efforts should ultimately help improve the lives of Singaporeans and take our businesses to the next level. Stay tuned!
3. Can you share with us IMDA’s initiatives to encourage digital trust in businesses and trade? How can these initiatives reinforce Singapore’s position as a trusted digital hub?
As our digital economy grows, we can expect a rise in digital transactions, identity and data involving both businesses and individuals. Therefore, there is a need to develop technologies that instil trust and safeguard privacy so that both businesses and individuals will continue to engage in digital transactions confidently.
At the BizTech Group, we will seek to develop such solutions that will cement Singapore’s position as a reputable digital hub and grow the nation’s digital trust capabilities by developing privacy-preserving technologies to build strategic capabilities and unlock new opportunities for industry.
4. How can exploring emerging technologies like AI help Singapore advance on a global stage?
In 2019, Singapore published the National AI Strategy and established the National AI Office under the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office. That same year, our country also released the first edition of the Model Governance Framework to give organisations in the private sector clear guidance on addressing key ethical and governance issues that inevitably come with deploying AI solutions. We have since released the second edition of the Model Framework, along with a self-assessment guide and compedium of use cases.
In the realm of talent, our AI researchers continue to rank top globally in terms of field-weighted citation impact, and in AI research output (journals and conference papers) per capita. With all these resources at hand, we hope to rally our companies and scientists to take the lead in developing and deploying responsible AI, cementing Singapore’s position as a trusted digital ecosystem on the global stage. Instead of resting on our laurels, we will continue to build on these strengths to support the National AI Strategy’s objectives.