Why is Singapore called New City

Smart City Singapore - Between Comfort and Control

In the digitally supported step of retirees on the way to the world's top competitiveness? In Singapore nothing can be seen of the hectic progress that can be observed in New York or Shanghai. 5.6 million people of different ethnicities live here in a confined space, but the calm remains.

There is time for tea or long walks through the parks on the Singapore River. Young people stroll through the huge greenhouses of Gardens by the Bay, their smartphones always at the ready so as not to miss a good selfie.

Singapore embarked on the journey into the digital future early on. National computerization began in the 1980s, and the government has been converting to digital services since the turn of the millennium. In 2014, the late, legendary Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announced the "Smart Nation" program: "We are making Singapore a nation in which we create opportunities that go beyond what we imagined possible."

At the beginning of the year, the government presented its “Artificial Intelligence Framework” at the World Economic Forum. It defines two ethical principles for AI applications: Algorithmic decisions must be traceable, transparent and fair. And all applications should be people-centered.

"Part of our nation's DNA"

"We are proceeding carefully," says Zee Kin Yeong, deputy managing director of the Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA). He sits in a simple open-plan office with glass meeting rooms. The team's dealings with the boss are professional and relaxed, not state supportive. Nobody wears a tie here.

He describes Singapore's concept for an artificially intelligent future with the term “ambient technology”. The technology will be “part of the DNA of our nation”, but the real value “continues to lie in our human competencies and capacities,” says Zee Kin: “And we want to supplement and expand this with technology.” So it can be at the traffic lights too sometimes go slower.

But not when parking. Singapore has limited space, the government limits the ability to buy a car by auctioning registration licenses for ten years at a time. Depending on demand, such a permit costs the equivalent of up to 65,000 euros. Anyone who pays that much money for a car also wants to drive it - and park it. The conversion to an electronic parking system, however, brought with it some hurdles, explains Daniel Lim, Head of the Government Data Office at the Prime Minister.

“We built a state-of-the-art app that was able to read the license plates with the help of image recognition AI to check whether the owner of the car had bought a parking ticket.” The only problem was: the technology only worked when the law enforcement officers were in front of them Cars kneeled: “Nobody wanted that,” says Lim, “so hardly anyone has used the app.” In the meantime, you can quickly find out who is a parking offender by entering an input into the app, while standing.

With its approach of putting people at the center of technological progress, Singapore could also serve as a model for Europe. "We have no other choice," says Subra Suresh, president of the elite Nanyang Technological University (NTU). "We cannot go the way of other Asian nations, for example China."

With one of the lowest birth rates in the world, Singapore has to take into account an aging population, its multi-ethnic composition and the fact that the state is the size of an island - and in times of climate change this is more likely to shrink than to grow.

That is why the government is first testing many AI applications together with industry and science. Ten companies are testing the use of self-driving buses on the NTU premises, which could create convenient transport options for city traffic and reduce traffic congestion considerably.

The public housing association invests in digitized buildings in which not only electricity, heating, water and alarm systems are centrally monitored and controlled by an app. Sensor systems also record all movements.

For older residents in particular, the evaluated patterns allow important conclusions: If they change, this can be a sign of an attack of dementia. If they stop completely, the emergency doctor is called automatically.

“Singapore's approach is modeled according to our needs,” says Daniel Lim. “It lies between a very collective Chinese and a very individualistic European model.” One difference is particularly important to him. You always recognize a problem first and then choose the right technology for its solution: "It then has to prove itself ethically." The Europeans, says Lim, took a "somewhat more ideological" approach. Translated it means: First regulation, then (maybe) implementation.

In order to be able to bring these projects into normal operation at some point, the citizens have to understand what is going on. The city-state is therefore investing heavily in restructuring the education system. It starts with an AI bus that goes to kindergartens and schools. In the laboratory on wheels, children can solve an "Escape Room" game with the help of AI applications.

Coding courses for primary school students

From next year there will be coding courses for primary school students. And with a free program, all citizens are gradually familiarized with the basics of AI. “We cannot start the AI ​​age in Wild West fashion,” says Ayesha Khanna, founder and head of an AI incubator. "Implementation will only be successful if we involve the population." When asked about Singapore in 2050, she replied: "We will live in an interdisciplinary manner, in a more sustainable, people-oriented and emotionally healthier city."

Sounds safe and sound, but is that realistic? Cherian George, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, describes Singapore as an "air-conditioned nation", a well-air-conditioned society that functions perfectly with a unique blend of comfort and control. The rules are clear.

Anyone who smuggles drugs into the country faces the death penalty, given the entry form. If you want to become something, you have to learn a lot and work hard. And those who belong to an ethnic or social minority have to adapt. Discipline and control are two sides of the same coin in the city, which is also a state, but not a democracy.

Perhaps this form of government fits perfectly with the new era of technological optimization through artificial intelligence. The dark, dirty sides of a society are consistently excluded from reality.

More: Miriam Meckel is the founding publisher of the digital education platform ada. If you want to understand tomorrow today, take a look at join-ada.com