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Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan explains the Fourth Industrial Revolution, how Singapore is part of the leading pack of Smart Nations and connected communities

With the recent unveiling of Singapore’s 2016 Budget, it comes as no surprise that Technology has come out on top. It was announced that $450 million will be set aside in the next three years towards the development and adoption of robots, SG-Innovate will be working to promote start-ups, and the Government added an extra $1.5 Billion towards the Research, Innovation, and Enterprise 2020 Plan initiatives.

IoT plays a big part in Singapore’s Smart Nation vision and developing the capacity to handle such technological advancements, provided that the nation is investing a considerable amount in the growth of the technology industry.

Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Programme Office, shared his perspective on how connected devices from the IoT world will effect Singapore’s vision, during his remarks at IoT Asia 2016.

Minister Balakrishnan began by explaining how politicians are impacted by technological disruption, instead of the cause for technological disruption. Although many Governments have tried a top-down approach to digital transformation, Minister Balakrishnan believes it works otherwise.

“The politicians generally have it all wrong… it is the advancements in technology which lead in turn to economic development. Then, the way that the economy unfolds affects political outcomes of countries,” Minister Balakrishnan stated, “In other words, it is technology, then economics, and then politics.”

He then went on to introduce the idea of the ‘Fourth Wave of Industrial Revolution’.

“If you now focus on technology and the advances in technology, many people have used this term, the ‘Fourth Wave of Industrial Revolution’, to describe it,” said the Minister Balakrishnan.

We recently heard Tan Sri Mohamad Zabidi Zainal mention this phenomenon of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and what it means to the Malaysian Government.

“This Fourth Revolution has introduced us to the tremendous potential of technological breakthroughs, from robotics to nano-technology and internet of things to healthcare analytics,” exclaimed Tan Sri Mohamad Zabidi Zainal, “These are trends which will require considerable support from government.”

To explain how the ‘Fourth Wave of Industrial Revolution’ will impact Singapore, Minister Balakrishnan went into further detail about the various technologies which will be making waves.

“What has really happened is that the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and the fact that every human carries a device which has sensing and communicative technologies… You add all of these things together, these are not just technological new devices,” Minister Balakrishnan explained.

“These are platform technologies which will completely transform the way we live, work, play, mobilise, entertain, make things, communicate, and this is what is driving the profound economic changes that are sweeping across the world.”

In an effort to illustrate the power of advanced technologies to the audience, Minister Balakrishnan used the example of Google’s AlphaGo computer program.

“Just a few weeks ago, we saw Google’s AlphaGo defeat one of the world’s best Go player. We shouldn’t underestimate the value of this achievement,” “In Go, the total number of possible games is 10 followed by 761 zeros. Some say this is larger than the amount of atoms in the universe.”

Although some may shutter at the idea of artificial intelligence platforms taking over, it is cautioned that we are still way off from these technologies reaching full maturity. Minister Balakrishnan tries to put minds at ease by describing how far these technologies have yet to go.

“It is a paradigm change, the software revolution. We are still at an early stage because our computers and robots have not reached the stage where they are self-replicating,” explained Minister Balakrishnan.

“When we reach that stage, where they are replicating in hardware and software, that’s when you know you have reached what some people call the singularity. That is when you will get the spirit in creative, computing, and analytical power which will exceed human ingenuity and human ability.”

However, it is not the technology which plays the biggest role in determining success in such a revolution. Yet, it is culture and how a society is prepared to adapt to such technology disruption.

Minister Balakrishnan explained why culture is the utmost importance to determining success.

“What do we as a society, as a political entity, and as a state, do about it? My sense is that in the midst of such revolution, actually the real determinant of success is culture,” Minister Balakrishnan stated.

“Do you have a society where there is a culture of openness, a culture of learning, a culture where you are prepared to invest in infrastructure and education, and a culture where you are prepared to reformat your rules and standards to take advantage of these technological advances. It is those societies, those cities, those nations…that will make all the difference between success and being left behind. This is what the Smart Nation, led by our Prime Minister, is all about.”

Smart City initiatives have been popping up frequently due to the onset of digital transformation and its effects on public sector bodies. We have seen such initiatives in cities like London, New York, Jakarta, and Singapore.

Minister Balakrishnan gave three reasons as to why he is confident that Singapore is leading the pack of smart city and nation initiatives.

“First reason, we are one of the most well connected cities in the world, in terms of fixed broadband and mobile coverage. Second reason, we have a population with a very strong background in science and technology. Third reason, we have a society and leadership that embraces an engineering focus,” said Minister Balakrishnan.

“You have a leadership that understands technology, not afraid of it, and is completely capable of using it. It is this ethos which drives agencies under the Smart Nation banner, who continue to innovate, make full use of digital technologies in order to improve quality of life for Singaporeans and present opportunities, and also, to see how this will shape our identity and cohesion as a society.”

Citing examples such as the myResponder app and Smart Lamp posts, Minister Balakrishnan described what the Smart Nation consists of. 

With this, he emphasised that technology will disrupt society but it is up to the people as to how they will react to this change. The Government has made giant leaps and reached key milestones in developing Singapore into a Smart Nation, and will continue increasing its efforts in years to come.

Image : (Left to right) Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister, Foreign Affairs and Minister-in-Charge, Smart Nation Initiative, Singapore; Mr. Oliver Tian, President, Singapore Industrial Automation Association (SIAA); and Rob van Gijzel, Mayor, Eindhoven and Chairman, Brainport Foundation, The Netherlands, shown new technology at the Accenture booth at IoT Asia 2016.

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