SINGAPORE - Imagine commuter transport synchronised to your personal needs, roads of driverless cars, robot-run restaurants, and even sensors that alert public officers that someone is smoking where they should not.
This could be the scenario of a Singapore running even more efficiently than ever, in a vision for a Smart Nation spelt out on Monday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. It involves individuals, government and businesses alike working in concert via the nationwide, integrated use of data analytics, sensor networks, information communication and phone apps.
This new goal - with a 10-year target - builds on initiatives to be a smart city, and also an Intelligent Nation 2015. But before jaundiced types wonder if Singapore is not already smart or intelligent enough, the latest drive, if successful, would take things up a notch amid the current batch of smart cities of the world.
Showing how much it matters, the Smart Nation Programme Office has been put under the Prime Minister's Office, with a minister in charge, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, rather than coming under a statutory board, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), as previous smart city efforts were. No wonder. At stake is a potential loss of economic competitiveness, not to mention a missed opportunity to improve Singaporeans' lives, say experts.
"If Singapore does not try new things, it will slip behind other global cities, because innovations will not happen here but elsewhere, like Silicon Valley," said the executive director of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*Star) Science and Engineering Research Council, Dr Tan Geok Leng.
What stands in the way
To become a smart nation, Singapore must overcome two problems. The first is to do with analysing big data - the massive volume of data created by every digital process and social media exchange, which can yield groundbreaking insights and solutions to longstanding problems. Are these systems secure, and can citizens maintain their privacy?
Several incidents have called the robustness of Singapore networks' security into question: Some government websites were vandalised last year, while 1,500 SingPass accounts were accessed illegally in July.
PM Lee acknowledged at the Smart Nation launch: "I don't think (our cyber-security functions) are as strong as we would like them to be." Indeed, the IDA just announced that it is rolling out two-factor authentication for SingPass next year.
Then there are the inevitable concerns about privacy.
The public sector is excluded from the Personal Data Protection Act, but as more private companies come on board the smart nation push, more data will be made available to them and citizens, intentionally or not.