Singapore at 50: City grows up, reinvents itself

Wed, 2015-08-05 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi


As we age, we tend to get a little self-conscious about how we look. That’s also a bit true of Singapore, which is turning 50 this month. And it’s celebrating with a truly extreme makeover –- reinventing itself inside and out.

The city state is going so far as to build a second Singapore: a digital twin of itself. That digital model is designed to not only help optimize the country now, and but also shape its next 50 years.

An urgent need to change
Singapore’s first 50 years were marked by tremendous success in shipping, oil refining, electronics and banking. But those industries are already showing their age, which, in turn, is causing Singapore to show its age. Weakness in some of those areas is taking a toll on its economy.

With electronics manufacturing, for example, Singapore once provided the low-cost workforce to the world. Now, countries with less expensive labor have taken that work from Singapore, leaving its citizens with a relatively high cost of living and poor job prospects.

Combine that with rapid immigration, an aging population and shrinking worker productivity, and Singapore realizes that to be strong for its next 50 years, it needs to make changes today.

It starts with a digital twin
Programmers are already working on Virtual Singapore now and they expect to launch the digital twin in 2018. The twin will be a truly dynamic model of the country, overlaying real-time data, such as climate and demographic information, over geometric, geospatial and topology information.

Analytics and simulation capabilities will let researchers, developers and city staff test scenarios digitally to discover the impact they would likely have in the real-world.

Virtual Singapore is not without its critics. Some believe the project is too large and contains too much data. But the hope is that the digital test environment will allow the country to develop and prove concepts much faster and at very low risk, accelerating its pace of improvements.

Reinventing its economy
One key objective is to completely overhaul its economy. Nearly half the residents still have non-professional jobs, such as staffing assembly lines and cleaning. Singapore has visions of being a global research and innovation hub.

Using technology is one component. The country has visions of its roads filled with autonomous vehicles. Every home will be connected with fiber-optic cable. Food will grow in gardens on the top of skyscrapers.

But Singapore is also changing its approach to allow innovation to happen, rather than trying to force it. So far, three technology parks are being developed, each with a unique focus: biomedical, digital media and information technology and engineering.

Biopolis, the biomedical technology park, is already thriving with pharmaceutical companies including Abbott, GlaxoSmithKline, Lilly, Novartis, Schering-Plough and Takeda setting up research and development facilities there. The campus also includes public sector research institutes, allowing the public and private sectors to easily collaborate, reducing their costs.

For its part, the Singapore government is letting those with the ideas lead. The government once tried to manage everything. Now, it’s an investor, and the ultimate investment is in itself.

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Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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