Need to build 'new middle class' with digital skills: Vivian Balakrishnan

Need to build 'new middle class' with digital skills: Vivian Balakrishnan

"The most important political challenge is to prepare our people for this revolution … instead of trying in a futile way to compete with machines and programmes," says the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative.

SINGAPORE: The digital revolution is disrupting jobs and impacting wages, and governments must choose between insulating themselves or equipping their citizens with the relevant skills to ride the waves of the revolution.

Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said this at the official opening of the Internet of Things (IoT) Asia trade platform on Wednesday (Mar 29).

"What this means in political terms is that even middle-class, white-collar work and its wages are going to be disrupted. And there’s no other way of sugar-coating this," said Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Affairs Minister.

"The most important political challenge is to prepare our people for this revolution. To make sure we be masters of technology - be the creators of new products and services - instead of trying in a futile way to compete with machines and programmes which can do regular things and, increasingly, faster, cheaper and better than human beings."

"There's far too much simplistic, populist and plain wrong prescriptions being offered," he added, citing the erection of walls and barriers and protectionism as a "recipe for disaster".

As such, there is a need to commoditise new technologies to build a "new middle class" with the skills and capabilities to reap the benefits of the digital revolution and thereby generate good jobs with good wages - which is at the heart of the Smart Nation initiative, he stressed.

The minister highlighted ways the Government is doing this, including the recent announcement of the Smart National and Digital Government Group (SNDGG), which will be responsible for driving digital transformation for the public service to improve service delivery.

The Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) also inked a new memorandum of intent with the National University of Singapore to have 2,000 public officers undergo data science training each year for the next five years on Wednesday, he noted.

The Government will also focus its efforts on building national digital platforms, including the development of the Smart Nation Platform to enable the use of sensor technology across the country. This is to foster innovation, reducing business costs and to benefit citizens, Dr Balakrishnan said.

For instance, GovTech is looking into leveraging existing infrastructure to maximise use of the country's physical assets such as lamp posts, with the minister saying these lamp posts will be piloted as nodes for deploying sensors, beacons and connectivity. In January this year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it will be rolling out a smarter and more energy-efficient street lighting system islandwide by 2022, and GovTech will be piggybacking on this for its trials.

That said, Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that cybersecurity remains at the forefront of the Smart Nation initiative.

"Critical control systems must be protected even as we make them smart. We must ensure that our digital identity framework and e-transactions are secure and robust," he said.

The development and adoption of IoT - which refers to the concept of connecting devices to the Internet - is expected to ramp up, with Asia Pacific companies estimated to spend more than S$81 billion for research and development on IoT by 2020.

Source: CNA/kk

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