Khaw Boon Wan, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Information, Communications & The Arts - Speech Opening of the International Conference on Chinese Computing (ICCC) ...

Khaw Boon Wan, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Information, Communications & The Arts - Speech
Opening of the International Conference on Chinese Computing (ICCC)

Singapore, 27 November 2001

Honourable Co-Chairs
Dr Bai Shuo and Associate Professor Lua Kim Teng
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good Morning

I am pleased to attend the International Conference on Chinese Computing 2001, co-organised by COLIPS (the Chinese and Oriental Languages Information Processing Society of Singapore) and the Chinese Information Processing Society of China (CIPC). To our many overseas delegates, we bid you a warm welcome.

Progress over the Decade

China's opening up to the world 20 years ago and the rise of the Internet have combined to guarantee a global role for Chinese Computing. Progress has been especially rapid in the last 10 years, in three key areas:

First, on the hardware side, we have seen major developments in Chinese Character Recognition and Input, speech processing, and word processing.

Second, on the software side, inroads have been made into Language Teaching, Information Retrieval, and Machine translation.

Third, on the commercial side, we have observed the proliferation of Chinese portals. Singapore has made a small contribution to this effort. For example, the World Chinese Business Network is a Chinese portal developed by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, for ethnic Chinese enterprises to facilitate networking globally.

Over the years, Chinese computing has steadily moved beyond technological trials to claiming some commercial success. One success story is BeiDa FangZhen, the newspaper system and typesetting company that has grown from a start-up company spun off from Beijing University into a billion-dollar global business. BeiDa FangZhen's newspaper system, for instance, has found a happy customer in Singapore's LianHe Zaobao.

The rising demand for Chinese computing has spawned the development of operating systems in the Chinese language, such as Microsoft's Windows, and Sun Microsystems' Chinese Solaris. Chinese application software for business is continually being developed, especially in computer-aided design, accounting, and mobile computing.

Bright Prospects

But we are only seeing the beginning. The full development of Chinese computing has yet to run its course. Millions of Chinese are crossing the digital divide every year. Many more millions are still on the other side of the divide, whether in business or at homes. This means a bright future for the Chinese computing industry. It is hard not to be bullish about this sector, considering the large number of potential users. In a decade or two, I have no doubt the market share between Chinese computing and English computing will be drastically different from today.

Singaporeans and Singapore companies should watch this development closely and see if they can be major players in this business. Government will be keen to help them seize these opportunities. If there are policies or rules stifling their participation, the business and professional community should surface them, for us to review.

Future Direction

As a player in Chinese computing, we have an interest in speeding up its development. As with many global initiatives, we need international cooperation to realise this objective.

First, standardisation of the Chinese character sets will greatly facilitate. Currently GuoBiao, or GB, codes in simplified Chinese characters are used in China, Singapore and Malaysia, while the BIG5 set that encodes traditional Chinese characters are used elsewhere. Standardisation of the software tools will be a great help. Otherwise, we will need different software to read web-sites and other documents originating from different countries. This adds on to cost and inconvenience. Initiatives such as UNICODE that aim to include all the major native languages are thus significant, as they enable applications to cater to different language communities.

Second, we should encourage more industry-relevant research exchanges among academies in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, the US, and other major Chinese-speaking communities. As computing penetrates diverse areas like biology, simulation, and pattern recognition, we should actively promote the development of common resources such as character fonts, text and voice samples essential to research.

Third, we should support the development of machine translation capabilities so that people from different parts of the world can communicate freely across language barriers.

Singapore's Efforts

As a multi-lingual and multicultural society, Singapore has a natural instinct to break down language barrier, so that all communities can play an active role in IT. The development of applications and services for different languages is therefore a key component of our IT strategy.

There is an existing agreement between the National University of Singapore and several top Chinese universities, to work on areas such as Natural Language Processing and Chinese Language e-Learning. We should continue to leverage on such university ties to broaden our Chinese computing knowledge and resources. International conferences such as this one are important platforms to enable our researchers and scholars to interact with their global counterparts, to share their expertise, with a common goal to raise Chinese computing standards.

I applaud COLIPS, on its efforts to set up a speech consortium to compile speech data and language resources of the world. The resources gathered and preserved by this project will be valuable for the development of the next generation of IT tools. The cooperation between COLIPS and CIPC is especially commendable. I hope you will maintain and build on this link actively.

We should also make good use of the advances in technology to foster innovation as well as build capability in Chinese computing. COLIPS will have a useful role to play, given its interest in promoting research and applications in Chinese computing, and its strong links to Chinese communities worldwide. In addition, we offer Singapore as an excellent consumer test-bed for innovators, local or foreign, to test out new technologies, applications and services.

In closing, let me thank COLIPS and CIPC for co-organising this conference. I wish all delegates a productive time, and to our guests, an enjoyable stay in Singapore.