Last updated: 13 March 2023

Published on: 18 May 2016


At Innovfest Unbound, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, issued a bold challenge to create an operating system for 100 million smart objects in Singapore within 5 years.

Imagine a national operating system for 100 million smart objects, created within five years. 

This moonshot will give rise to a huge range of opportunities for application developers, service providers, companies and enterprises to leverage on. 

And it can be done here because there is a single layer of government, and this is a small, compact island where infrastructure can be rolled out quickly. 

Min Vivian

Minister Dr Vivian future people will come to Singapore and when they leave they will say, ‘I have seen the future and it works’.

Speaking at the opening of InnovFest unBound on 17 May, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, highlighted some of the  things that the Singapore government is trying to do to make sure that the country can take full advantage of the ongoing digital revolution. 

A key pillar is to build “the best digital infrastructure in the world”. 

Connectivity is of course a crucial piece of the Smart Nation vision, and in the past few years, fibre has been rolled out to every home, ensuring that “bandwidth will never be a limiting factor in Singapore”. 

Taking connectivity a step further, Dr Balakrishnan issued a challenge to the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) to create a national operating system for 100 million smart objects. 

These objects will include the smart phones carried by some 5 million people in the country, every traffic light, every lamp post, every camera and every surface with a sensor. 

Ultimately, there will be a system to acquire the data and analyse it to create actionable insights and applications. 

Who are you?

Another area that the government is looking at is security,  and a key subtopic of this is identity. 

“How do you prove you are who you are when you are interacting through screens or on the Internet? How do you know you can trust the person at the other end of the transaction?”

One step in the right direction was the implementation of two-factor authentication for SingPass, the online account management system for Singapore Government e-services. 

Min onstage

A full capacity crowd at the opening of Innovfest Unbound, the anchor event of Smart Nation Innovations week.

But that is only the beginning, said Dr Balakrishnan. 

“We need some form of PKI (public key infrastructure) linked to our SingPass ID in order to give non-repudiation, security and encryption end-to-end to build that web of trust so that transactions can take place,” he said.

To ready Singapore for the digital revolution, another area of focus is to make the government a “smart buyer” using a demand-driven model that is focused on the people’s and the government’s needs. 

Dr Balakrishnan cited the example of issues such as traffic congestion, green energy and the security of online transactions. 

These are needs or issues that have to be resolved and if any startup or company has a solution, it can step forward to develop a proof of concept or prototype to prove that it works.

“That is, in my view, a better approach than simply giving money and grants on the supply side,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

Revolution and the Law

The digital revolution also has to be accompanied by a revolution Singapore’s policy and regulatory framework. 

Citing the example of autonomous vehicles (AVs), Dr Bakakrishnan said the real challenge for AVs is not computing, but in “getting the licensing and insurance and laws right”.

AV trials at one-north, where 6 km of roads have been set aside for the vehicles, will provide an opportunity for various stakeholders to address these issues.

Another example: The financial services sector, which could potentially be disrupted by the likes of bitcoin and blockchain technology. To encourage innovation, the government has created a regulatory sandbox for fintech (financial technology). 

This allows any startup to test and grow their ideas and build their products and services without having to apply for a licence or permit.

The government will take a regulatory interest only when the startup becomes big and successful enough to be a major player in the financial system as a whole. 

Other areas that the government is focusing on are education, with the Ministry of Education offering computing as an O level subject in 19 secondary schools starting next year; and R&D, where $19 billion is being set aside under the Research Innovation and Enterprise 2020 plan. 

In his speech, Dr Balakrishnan also announced that four large local enterprises have been awarded a total of $S40 million in venture capital funds to invest in innovative local tech-startups, under the National Research Foundation’s Early Stage Venture Fund Scheme. 

tech alley

The future of technology on display at the Tech Alley showcase of Innovfest Unbound 2016.

The four are CapitaLand Limited, DeClout Limited, Wilmar International Limited and YCH Group Pte Ltd. 

“We are living through a digital revolution, and this digital revolution is going to give huge opportunities to people who ‘get it’,” said Dr Balakrishnan. 

“What we are trying to do in Singapore is to create the most conducive environment for people who ‘get it’ to be able to build it, so that in future people will come to Singapore and when they leave they will say, ‘I have seen the future and it works’.”

InnovFest unBound 2016 is a two-day innovation festival and digital conference. It is the anchor event of Smart Nation Innovations 2016, a week-long series of activities organised by IDA to look at the future impact of technology. 

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