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From Intelligent Island to Connected Island

Opening Address by David Lim, Acting Minister for Information, Communications & The Arts and Senior Minister Of State for Defence at The National Infocomm Awards 2002 Gala Dinner, Ritz-Carlton Millenia

David Lim, Acting Minister for Information, Communications & The Arts and Senior Minister Of State for Defence - Opening Address at The National Infocomm Awards 2002 Gala Dinner, Ritz-Carlton Millenia
Singapore, 23 April 2002

Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening.

1. For most of the last decade, America built the world's fastest supercomputers. But yesterday, the International Herald Tribute reported on its front page that a Japanese laboratory now operates the world's fastest computer. Installed at the Earth Simulator Research and Development Center in Yokohama, this computer has so far achieved speeds up to 35.6 trillion mathematical operations per second, equivalent to the computing power of 20 of the most powerful American supercomputers combined.

2. We can draw a number of observations from this breakthrough by the Yokohama laboratory.

3. Firstly, leadership is not static. However far we advance, leadership is temporary. The Japanese are, for now, in the lead for supercomputers, although not everyone thinks their approach is the right one. And faster machines are on the drawing board in various laboratories in the US. The race continues.

4. Secondly, advances in technology are unending. The race continues because each discovery and invention allows us to solve bigger and harder problems. Weather prediction in the past was part guesswork, and part reading the clouds. "Red sky in morning, sailors take warning" - is an old adage, which is probably still true. But as supercomputers get faster, we get closer to the day when we can pack our umbrellas according to the weather forecasts. Of course, this benefit alone is not worth the billions we spend on weather forecasting. But being able to divert aircraft and ships, or evacuate people to safety is. Technology brings value when we can find the right applications for it.

5. For Singapore, these are key lessons that we must constantly hold in mind. In 1995, we set out to build an Intelligent Island. By various measures, we have achieved that goal. The number of homes that have personal computers, or the number of Internet users and mobile phone subscribers, or the number of infocomm professionals in Singapore all attest to our progress in making Singapore Intelligent.

6. But now, we must take another step forward.

7. The changes that have taken place in the info-communications technology (ICT) landscape over the past five years arise largely from the high level of connectivity that has been achieved via the Internet, and investments in info-communications infrastructure. This has enabled new electronic services to be introduced, bringing benefits to both corporations and consumers.

8. The higher the level of connectivity, the greater the economic benefit. We are at the beginning of this new curve. In the years ahead, advances in broadband, wireless and digital media technologies will open up many new channels of communication, and offer greater value and affordability to more people.

9. To grow, we must take full advantage of this connectivity.

10. We have the infrastructure to do this. Over the years, both the government and private sector have invested substantially in our infocomm facilities. We made the right decision to bring forward the liberalization of our telecoms sector. As a result, telecoms costs in Singapore have fallen substantially. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) estimates that the savings in telecoms costs is about $80 million a month, or almost $1 billion each year when we compare current rates versus rates two years ago. Two years ago, before liberalisation, the total bandwidth of our international telecoms connections was only about 50 Gigabits per second. Today, it is 21 Terabits per second, a 400-fold increase.

11. But growth will require more than infrastructure.

12. We need to make use of this infrastructure in creative ways to make use of the value that connectivity brings. This requires a mindset change. In the past, we made things, and provided services. In the future, we will continue to do this. But the emphasis will change. Where once we derived value from production, we will in future derive value increasingly from innovation. We will make products, but the greater value will be in the way we design, brand, and market them. We will provide services, but the greater value will be in the way we are able to package, customize, and deliver them on demand.

13. In short, the value proposition has shifted from productivity alone, to productivity and creativity.

14. The ICT industry contributes to this new value proposition in two ways. Firstly, by being innovative in the types of products and services it brings to the market. Secondly, by enabling other industries to offer a wider variety of their products and services to the market.

15. The investments in infrastructure to make Singapore Intelligent have been made. For Singapore to take the next step forward, our challenge is to make creative use of this infrastructure. This is a task for the companies who are here tonight, as well as your customers.

16. Let me illustrate this point with a story. Two weeks ago, the Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ) ran an interesting front-page article about bird-watchers. On a bird-watching vacation from his native Finland to the Everglades in 1995, Tommi Hietavuo spied a rare species of a nearly extinct bird. However, he had no way to spread the news to other bird-watchers. But Tommi was no ordinary bird-watcher. He was also a development manager for Hewlett-Packard's mobile-services division. And he had a second vision: using mobile-telephone services to take bird watching into the 21st century.

17. As a result of Tommi's passion for bird-watching and his vision, Hewlett Packard (HP) has just launched the Bird Observation System in Finland - a multimedia messaging service combined with global-positioning system technology to transmit species and location information to other registered birdwatchers in real time. The AWSJ reports that, "If it lives up to expectations, it could represent a milestone for mobile operators betting big on next-generation wireless services, by generating huge amounts of messaging traffic via user-driven content that costs the operators little to produce".

18. This story illustrates how users, and ICT solution providers, are both drivers and necessary partners in innovation. Mobile telephone companies all over the world are looking to data services as the next source of revenue growth. In this case, a community of passionate users, and an open and innovative corporation, seized the opportunity together. They exploited the physical connectivity made possible by technology, and they leveraged the human connectedness of the bird-watching fraternity.

19. It is what people can do with others that makes them want to communicate. Providing them with the applications and tools to communicate turned a human need into a business venture, and brought benefits to all parties.

20. The next phase of growth for Singapore's ICT industry will depend on how creative and passionate we are in exploring and inventing applications that bring benefit to users, and new markets for businesses. What we now need is passion, drive, and imagination.

21. Tonight's award nominees and winners demonstrate all of these qualities. I commend each of them, and congratulate all the winners.

22. Ladies and Gentlemen: The government will continue to promote and develop ICT industry, especially in the development of ICT professionals and skills. We will continue to invest in research and development, and offer incentives for business and users to venture into new areas. We will seek out opportunities to collaborate, and attract investors and talents to work with and in Singapore. We will strive to raise the capability of our industry through partnerships between multi-national companies and local enterprises. We will continue to set the pace of innovation and development through the e-government programme.

23. But it will be companies like the ones we honour tonight, and their customers, who will be the key drivers of the next phase of our growth. We may not have the world's fastest supercomputer, and we don't have many rare bird species in Singapore. But we do have an Intelligent Island that is wired up and ready to go.

24. We need new and fresh ideas to capture the market with astonishing new products or services. For example, we could think about setting up a gaming centre where players can design the games they play, and use this to tap the multi-disciplinary talents of young gamers - talents that are part art, part science, part technology.

25. Coming up with new ideas is a collective effort. Let us all apply our imagination, and let our creativity take flight. Then we can achieve industry growth, corporate profitability, and social benefits. The future of the ICT industry is promising. Post the dot-com era, new technologies that deliver wireless high bandwidth, will bring a new wave of applications and benefits. With creativity and connectivity, we can tap this wave of opportunities, and transform Singapore from an Intelligent Island into a Connected Island.