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Innovating Services and Digital Economy in Singapore

By Thomas Ho Chee Tat, George Loh Chee Ping

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 63 No. 4, Pages 58-59
10.1145/3378554

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Singapore has been investing in information and communication technologies (ICT) since the 1990s, and more recently, has been driving toward digitalization and automation for the transformation of the society, government, and economy. This article reports on Singapore's technology development in the services and digital economy (SDE) and concludes with insights for research over the next five years.


NRF will invest in the development of sectoral applications using 5G communication technologies as well as beyond 5G.


Singapore is ranked as the world's second most digitally competitive country by IMD.a The nation's spending in technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), as shown in Figure 1 compared to internationally, is critical to the success of Singapore's Smart Nation and Digital Economy vision. Singapore's Research Innovation & Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan continues to "play a key role in driving Singapore's future economy, as well as address national and societal priorities." According to the Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who also serves as chairman of the National Research Foundation (NRF), the RIE's $19 billion investment, "will support the future economy council's efforts to encourage adoption of digitalization and automation across Singapore's economic sectors."5

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Figure 1. International benchmarking of Singapore's AI spending (2017).

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Nation Imperatives

With its genesis in interactive digital media in 2006, SDE was established in 2016.1 It focused on the development of digital capacities and cross-cutting core competencies for the three domains shown in Figure 2. The SDE strategy consisted of developing human talents to learn, create, and innovate new digital technologies like AI, privacy and trust, cyber-security, data analytics, and digital twining.

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Figure 2. RIE framework for years 2015–2020.

The SDE competencies described here serve three national strategic imperatives that continue to keep Singapore competitive in trade and commerce. First, to maintain Singapore's strategic position as a neutral, trusted node in key spheres of global activity, which would be strengthened with advanced capabilities in cybersecurity, data privacy preservation, distributed digital ledger, and other technologies for the interconnected global digital economy. NRF established the National Cybersecurity R&D program to develop technologies for national strategic requirements. The National Cybersecurity Laboratories and Consortium ensure forefront technologies are always available to guard Singapore's digital assets against cyber threats.

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Figure. The Changi Airport in Singapore is considered one of the most technologically advanced airports in the world.

Second, to achieve Singapore's Smart Nation vision—to make Singapore "an outstanding city in the world ... for people to live, work, and play in, where the human spirit flourishes." Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the 2019 Smart Nation Summit that the Smart Nation push "is applying technology to solve real problems that will make a difference to people's lives, across the whole of society" to improve the quality of life for all. The Jurong Lake District became Singapore's Smart Nation testbed.2 It demonstrated technologies like smart lighting that minimizes energy consumption according to ambient luminance as well as autonomous vehicles and sensor-augmented traffic light technologies3 for advanced mobility transportation and pedestrian safety.

Third, to overcome Singapore's manpower constraint and aging workforce and to increase productivity. NRF established The National AI Singapore (AISG) R&D program4 in 2017 to bring together universities, research institutes, and companies to innovate game-changing AI and automation capabilities. To date, it has completed nine industrial projects with 29 on-going and 363 more in the pipeline. The Singapore Data Science Consortium was formed with universities and companies as members to do data analysis for Singapore's cosmopolitan society. It has completed nine industrial projects and hosted five industry-academic exchange events.

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Going Forward

Singapore will continue to invest in SDE R&D in order to maintain and develop the capabilities mentioned here, such as AI, cybersecurity, and privacy-preserving, as well as invest in new R&D areas to support the national initiatives. Communication and connectivity are key technology components of digital systems and solutions. In addition, NRF will invest in the development of sectoral applications using 5G communication technologies as well as beyond 5G. IoT devices and platforms will support and transform business models and solutions. A few of the emerging applications include connected cars, smart manufacturing, and smart/green building. IoT technologies will be an integral part of the Smart Nation vision and will be an area of R&D investment for SDE. Quantum technologies have already transformed some businesses. NRF intends to invest substantially to translate the quantum sciences developed in the Center of Quantum Technology (CQT) into quantum technologies, which include quantum key distribution (QKD), post-quantum encryption, quantum algorithms, and computing.


IoT devices and platforms will support and transform business models and solutions. A few of the emerging applications include connected cars, smart manufacturing, and smart/green building.


The approach to achieve Singapore's desired outcomes of optimizing resources and shaping Singapore's economy involved identifying key technological focus areas and filtering them with required strategic criteria. Once the R&D areas are identified, action plans are formulated toward execution and achievement.

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References

1. Hio, L. Big push for science and tech research, services and digital economy. The Strait Times (Jan. 9, 2016); https://www.straitstimes.corn/singapore/services-and-digital-economy.

2. Kelleher, J. In-depth look at the smart nation trials at Jurong. Opengovasia, Feb. 1, 2019; https://www.opengovasia.com/in-depth-look-at-the-srnart-nation-trials-at-jurong/

3. Institute for Infocomm Research. IHI Corporation (SAINT); https://www.a-star.edu.sg/i2r/partnership/item/itemid/

4. National Research Foundation, AI Singapore, Nov. 7, 2018; https://www.nrf.gov.sg/programmes/artificial-intelligence-r-d-programme

5. Teng, A. Innovation, transformation, and investment in workers key for a vibrant S'pore economy (Today Online, May 10, 2018); http://bit.ly/2T4odIB

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Authors

Thomas Ho Chee Tat is Head of Services and Digital Economy at the National Research Foundation Singapore.

George Loh Chee Ping is Director of Services and Digital Economy at the National Research Foundation Singapore.

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Footnotes

a. http://bit.ly/35xjmCm


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