The future is a dark and foreboding affair. But while the way has not been paved (or according to some, the route has been made but we’ve yet to cross it), seers would scry the insides of animals or read tea leaves, all in a bid to ascertain the future.
But today, we are armed to the teeth with data and, by analysing said information, we can forecast possible outcomes. As Singaporeans are living longer, the scope of the future spreads even wider. What can we expect? How can we prepare for this eventuality?
We roped in several thought-leaders in their respective fields to give their futurist take on… well, the future.
OF ONE KIND HOUSE
ON FAMILY 2.0
"The first question every parent must ask is: is the future the same as what they went through? Are we living in the Industrial Age or the exponential age?
"If the answer is more or less the same and we are still in the Industrial Age, then fine. Don’t change, the system works.
"If you think we are in the exponential age, it means technology is expanding which means business is changing much faster than before which also changes behaviour. That means with medical technology changing exponentially, potentially our kids and us will live way longer than expected.
"Imagine living longer, jobs are taken away by machines, more industries and careers are disrupted, you constantly have to reinvent yourself.
"Your children are studying for jobs that may not exist while parents are wondering if theirs will.
"So, what skill sets do you need to prepare for this world?
"I choose to prepare my kids for this world. You need to be more human and less machine-like to survive.
"Creativity, imagination, curiosity, agility, resilience, constant questioning, not stigmatised by failure and self-belief. These cannot be scored nor taught in tuition centres. They can only be lived and experienced. So, what did I do?
"My son, Dylan, at 12, illustrated, co-wrote and published a book called The Big Red Dot. He had to visit the printers, check out paper stock, choose the binding, figure out the cost and sell the product at weekend markets. There, he figures that there’s no point in talking to the men as they were only there for beers. Rather, talk to the women. Once you pique their interest, they can’t resist the story of a 12-year-old writing a bedtime story about self-belief. Then, he got asked to audition for TEDx and he was so good during the three auditions, he was the opening speaker: a 12-year-old kid speaking in front of 1,800 people.
"That led to a few speaking gigs. While he was doing that, we launched a successful Kickstarter for a self-watering grow-it-yourself stick. What did he learn from that? He learnt how to solve a problem, in this case, busy urbanites not knowing how much water is needed for their plants. Then, he prototyped and tested it, 3D printed the final prototypes and figured out the production cost. He learnt that Kickstarter was a global idea validation platform. Not bad for a 13-year-old.
"Then, he was asked by Angry Birds co-creator Peter Verstabacka to help launch a game. Dylan was given an internship at 14. He impressed the Finns so much that he is now studying in Helsinki.
"While other kids may have their academic CV, Dylan has his life skills CV. Now which one is more valuable?
"It comes back to the question: are we living in the Industrial Age or the exponential age?
"Moore’s law is what’s driving exponential change. It’s basically the doubling of computing power every 18 months. It’s been happening for over 50 years. And now Google claims quantum computing which is another exponential leap. So, technology is not going to slow down. The Israelis can 3D print a miniature heart from your stem cells. Factor in exponential change and do you think they can do it in 20 years? What’s the impact on our life expectancy?
"In Singapore, we thought about homeschooling our kids. They still have to take the PSLE and O-Level. That’s the law. So, we have to work within the system. Dylan went to Anglo Chinese School and my daughter, Ava, to St Anthony’s Convent.
"But we told them you don’t have to come in first. Or even be in the top 10. Just a pass will do. Then you don’t stay back for remedial classes and have time to do Kickstarter, to play, to dream, to invent, to wonder, to develop the skills that machines can’t do. That’s how you work around our system. But it’s hard as Singapore parents have succeeded with the system. The herd mentality is strong. We are not conditioned to be critical thinkers. To question or to rebel.
"So, like that how?"
BUSINESS FUTURIST, DISRUPTION ADVISER AND INNOVATION STRATEGIST
ON ECONOMY 2.0
"The next decade will be hyper-disruptive due to the acceleration and convergence of four mega disruptions. Technological, geopolitical, climatic and demographical disruptions will severely impact the economic, political and social landscape in the years ahead. The new operating environment and changing economics of business can best be described as EDVUCA: exponential, disruptive, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Businesses everywhere, especially in Singapore given our interdependence with the world, will not be spared this creative destruction process.
"The fourth Industrial Revolution will witness the seamless fusion of human society, physical environment and digital domain into one integrated world. Science fiction scenarios, such as robotic avatars and medical tricorders, will be fitted into our daily lives. Business models will remotely resemble those of today’s as intelligent technologies drive us towards near-complete autonomy, not only in our cars but also in entire economies, industries and companies.
"It is in this EDVUCA operating landscape that we consider Singapore’s economic future. With active planning and development by the government, Singapore has developed a highly ambidextrous economy in the past decade. This means that, on one hand, it is exploiting the now, while on the other hand, it is exploring the new. Exploiting is about harvesting today’s economic opportunities; large corporations and small businesses are improving financial returns through the production of products and services that are in demand today. Exploring is about innovating tomorrow’s market growth; technology start-ups, research institutes and innovation centres are innovating emerging products, intellectual property, business models and value chains to serve the customers of tomorrow. This balance between exploit and explore is crucial for the economy and businesses to be future-ready or even future-creating as they are not just invested in today but committed in inventing tomorrow. An economy that has both disruptees and disruptors evens out in times of disruptive change.
"For the purpose of comparison, Hong Kong’s economy lacks ambidexterity and, hence, has been unable to reinvent itself over time. It remains largely a colonial trading post-styled economy, dominated by 20th century industries of real estate, financial services, tourism, trading and retail. Singapore, in contrast, has repeatedly re-invented her economy and established multibillion-dollar industries from scratch. Semiconductor, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, digital technology, aerospace, integrated resort, advanced manufacturing and high-tech research industries are examples of sectors it has developed over the past 20 years.
"Today, only a miniscule portion of Singaporean corporations and businesses are ambidextrous, although this is rapidly changing. As the economy becomes more digital, companies which innovate and digitise earlier will get an outsized share of the upside at the expense of the laggard majority. When emerging technologies such as 5G networks, Internet of Things, blockchains and artificial intelligence mature in the coming years, businesses which successfully experiment, develop and scale the next generation of products will disrupt incumbents locally, regionally, and for some, even globally.
"I foresee that more technology unicorns and digital-first companies will appear and that at least 80 to 90 percent of today’s SMEs will not exist within the next decade. At the same time, digital marketplaces will continue their march into every consumer sector, outcompeting traditional manpower- intensive operators and creating livelihood opportunities for freelancing in Southeast Asia. While disruptors are already visible in consumer segments, such as financial, telecommunication, healthcare, logistics, food and lifestyle services, they will start to gain a foothold and decimate long-time incumbents. B2B companies in supply chain, professional services and industrial sectors will also start to see their share of disruptors which promise superior business models with a high degree of autonomy and intelligence.
"Singapore’s economic ambidexterity puts it in good stead to capitalise on the fast-emerging, next-generation economy. It is self-evident that companies which transform themselves and invest in the future now will have a runaway and unassailable lead over the pack. As Mark Zuckerberg explains: 'The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.'"
SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR AND FOUNDER OF BASE-OF-PYRAMID (BOP) HUB
ON SOCIAL ENTERPRISE 2.0
"Social entrepreneurship in Singapore is very much alive and lots of young people would like to either be a social entrepreneur or work in a job that pays a salary and allows them to serve society to make the world a better place.
"However, here are the challenges. Due to the small population and efficiency of the government, Singapore does not have huge problems that affects hundreds of thousands of people.
"Therefore, the economy of scale is absent and in turn, it is very hard to be profitable and self-sustainable. This means they often rely on grants and donations to subsidise their good work.
"Local social entrepreneurs should look at both local and regional challenges to grow their mission. The best way to do that is through collaboration. There are four billion people in the world earning less than USD8 a day and 60 percent of them live in Asia.
"Charity has never been effective in lifting these folks out of poverty. In fact, the late minister mentor rejected foreign aid when we were a poor country in 1965. Instead, he welcomed foreign investments to train our people with skills to earn higher income, to invest in local entrepreneurship to create jobs and the multipliers effect.
"China copied Minister Mentor Lee’s model and in the last 30 years, China got 700 million people out of poverty. Rwanda called itself the Singapore of Africa and is now the fastest growing African country despite being landlocked and having a history of genocide.
"Having seen how the world envied Singapore as the model of development excellence, I started BOP HUB as a social enterprise platform to coordinate all proven models of social entrepreneurs in the world and I hope to help transform the annual USD150 billion of foreign aid into impact investments to unlock the people’s spirit of enterprise and good work ethics everywhere in Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, China and the Pacific islands.
"When these folks are trained with skills and have access to customers, technologies, investments and networks, we will be able to attain all the 17 SDGs (sustainable development goals) by 2030. For me, the key to all the SDGs is having decent jobs and livelihoods. Once they can earn more money, they can send their kids to school; buy nutritious food, water filters, solar cookstoves, solar lamps and home systems; build toilets and houses; and increase local GDP to get themselves out of poverty.
"The BOP Design Centre coordinates all such trades. We plan to attract SMEs, start-ups, MNCs and social entrepreneurs from all over the world and integrate them into an efficient market ecosystem to deliver products and services cheaper, faster, better and profitably via two-way trade with the farmers, fishermen and slum dwellers.
"These were formerly seen as unprofitable customers but today we can see how Taobao villages in China are uplifting rural communities into the middle class through e-commerce, e-payment and direct trade.
"Pingduoduo and JD.com are also growing this sector very quickly. In Kenya, Mpesa e-payment has been around for decades. In fact, Bangladesh BRAC copied Mpesa and is now the largest cashless payment system in Bangladesh.
"Innovation is happening in the developing world and I think the future of social enterprises is no more a not-for-profit entity nor a profit maximisation entity. Social entrepreneurship will focus on impact maximisation while making profits to grow their social mission. This will be the most sustainable development methodology."
DIRECTOR OF SNAKEWEED STUDIOS,
MUSIC PRODUCER AND
ON MUSIC 2.0
"Technology has shaped the way we produce and consume music. With the introduction of digital music production software, we’ve seen a growth in the number of young musicians of all abilities to write, record and produce their own songs to a reasonable quality and often from their bedrooms. This has led to an increasing pool of ‘independent’ artists who are growing their respective followings via online platforms which allow them to share their work with the world. It fuels their ability to make music and build their career at their own pace, with their own style and at the same time retain creative control over their own works. We’ve recently seen the success of Jasmine Sokko who won an MTV EMA award for best artist in Southeast Asia and who started out producing music from her bedroom. Jasmine is just one of the many young emerging musicians who are embracing music technology to not only make a career for themselves but to take Singapore music to the next level. I predict that this will be the next phase for music direction in Singapore where the independent artists determine how their music is produced and consumed.
"We’ve also seen an increase in the number of young students who are enrolled in music co-curricular activities (CCAs) in primary and secondary schools. Amongst all the arts-related CCAs, about 75,000 youths are enrolled in music CCAs. The reach into mainstream schools, and the growth of private music schools, further demonstrates the positive impact of music. On the tertiary level there are also quality tertiary and training options for musicians. These include the Singapore Polytechnic’s Diploma in Music Audio Technology, Republic Polytechnic’s Diploma in Sonic Arts, the Yong Siew Toh Music Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and the Lasalle College of the Arts. Music education will provide the opportunity to acquire the critical professional tools and skills to groom young talents for the music business while refining their music-making abilities and the quality of music recordings, thus improving their access to markets. As a music educator myself, I’ve worked with some of these schools to hire interns for the hands-on practical experience. Over the years, each new batch of interns has grown more industry-savvy; they know how to carve out a career through image creation, marketing, art law and music management.
"I think we’ll see more homegrown artists emerging in the next few years. There will be more artistic collaborations within all genres, a Singapore act that will break barriers and explode onto the international scene, and a Singapore society who will support, champion, promote and develop a thriving music scene."
DR MARCELO H ANG JR
ADVANCED ROBOTICS CENTRE AT THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE,
ON ROBOTICS 2.0
"The industrial robots widely deployed today for factory environments can be compared to the mainframe computers of the 1970s designed for large organisations and institutes. Today, we see computers everywhere, in our homes and in our pockets in the form of smartphones. We are at the moment of great opportunities for robotics to transform our lives, where robots would get out of factories and be part of our daily lives, in our homes, hospitals, malls, shopping centres, etc. The challenge is the unstructured environments where robots have to interact with humans, both physically and socially, to help us in everything we do. We are already seeing that today in the automation of routine processes through data automation. A bigger impact is robotics where data or intelligence is embodied into physical and moving objects, helping in our everyday lives.
"Singapore has always been very open to such technologies to enable quality living for all. The whole country is a living lab for new technologies. Among all robotics applications, self-driving vehicles as a public transportation system is perhaps the most compelling in its effect on society. Safety is the main driving force for autonomous vehicles (AVs), while manpower productivity and efficient use of resources (vehicles and infrastructure such as roads) are also important motivations. The Singapore TR 68 (technical reference) for autonomous vehicles launched on 31 January 2019 is a first step towards full deployment of AVs which is targeted for 2022 in three districts in Singapore to enable easy mobility centred around a train station. CETRAN (Centre of Excellence for Testing & Research of AVs – NTU) has already been testing and certifying AVs for operation on public roads. Pioneering work on AVs started in Singapore through a collaboration between SMART (Singapore MIT Alliance on Research and Technology) and NUS, which started in 2010. The collaboration resulted in the formation of Nutonomy in 2014, which was bought by Delphi in 2017. Nutonomy was one of the first in the world to deploy robot-taxis, operating in the One-North area. There are many other examples of leading-edge robotic applications in Singapore, spearheaded by the National Robotics Programme Office. These include healthcare and assistive robotics, building façade inspection and construction-related applications, and autonomous environment service robotics (eg. pavement cleaning); where several groups have been awarded contracts.
"These examples are a preview of bigger things to come as robotic systems improve their ‘bodies’ and ‘brains’ to be able to operate safely in human environments which are unstructured or not accurately known. Advances in artificial intelligence, that is, deep learning, has provided an important leap to overcome problems of perception for environment understanding and are starting to show results for improved planning and decision making. Soft robotics aims at improving the ‘body’ of the robotic system by using and/or creating materials in a creative away to achieve ‘softness’ in terms of physical properties and with built-in sensing (ie. feeling) and actuation (physical motion). Singapore is well-placed to be one of the first in the world to take advantage of these advancements, being in the forefront in contributing to these scientific and technological developments."
PUBLISHER AND CEO OF EPIGRAM BOOKS
ON LITERATURE 2.0
"When we published Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye in 2015, I thought, “there goes the Great Singaporean Novel.” My elation, though, was shattered by the withdrawal of its publishing grant and the subsequent official denunciation.
"Despite, or maybe because of, the government’s displeasure, the book went on to become a national bestseller here and, after its release in the United States, to win a record-equalling three Eisners, the equivalent of the Oscars for the comics world. It became the first Singaporean title to feature on a New York Times bestseller list. The graphic novel has now been translated into seven languages, won numerous other awards overseas, and become Singapore’s most famous literary work.
"In 2015, the year we published Sonny’s Charlie Chan, we also launched the Epigram Books Fiction Prize for unpublished novels with prize money now totalling SGD40,000. Nearly 30 titles, several by first-time authors, have been published from the competition and it has uncovered such groundbreaking novels as Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Sugarbread, Sebastian Sim’s Let’s Give It Up for Gimme Lau!, Nuraliah Norasid’s The Gatekeeper, Warran Kalasegaran’s Lieutenant Kurosawa’s Errand Boy, and Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency, to name just five. The contest, in turn, has inspired many others to pick up their writing pen and, apart from the long-form novels, the mushrooming number of short story anthologies and graphic novels is a healthy sign. So 2015 will come to be seen as the tipping point, the year it became possible to imagine SingLit on the world stage.
"Since then, the Singaporean novel is no longer an oddity and Singaporean authors have, likewise, been picked up by international publishers. This quest for excellence continues and I can say confidently that the future of the Singaporean novel is bright. This optimism is not based on any exciting sales numbers nor supported by rosy readership surveys.
"Sales are still modest by international standards and statistical polls show we are still some way off the leading nations. Instead, my confidence is founded on the ineluctable rise of a national longing for local stories. The hope, perhaps, is also fuelled by the small band of committed independent publishers hell-bent on making a difference. And my spirit is bolstered by the growing community of writers just as dedicated to telling the Singapore story.
"Perhaps, in the end, it is (to steal a thought from historian Amanda Foreman) my belief that the novel in modern culture is able to champion the unconventional, explore the unfamiliar and tackle difficult subjects, that will keep our authors and publishers in their quixotic quest for the next great Singaporean novel. The authorities can, of course, help them on the journey but it cannot stop their pursuit. For a growing community of devoted readers, having newly discovered the pleasures of SingLit, has also become its most ardent evangelists."
KRYSTYN J VAN VLIET
OF SINGAPORE-MIT ALLIANCE FOR RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY (SMART), MIT'S RESEARCH ENTERPRISE IN SINGAPORE,
ON MANUFACTURING PERSONALISED MEDICINE 2.0
"Medical care in Singapore is a high-quality experience for the patient. I’ve found through my visits and experiences that the Singapore government invests thoughtfully in infrastructure, social services, research and education. Continuation of that vibrant investment in the future, particularly with the demographically diverse patient population and diseases that are prevalent in the region, will be important to ensuring that patients who live in Singapore or visit for medical care continue to have access to the best and most current therapeutics available. This includes providing a pathway to develop and to produce biopharmaceuticals in the country, including using living cells as the medicine or using living cells to make the medicine.
"Given my other experiences of medical innovation and biotechnology research in the US, in and around Kendall Square and in and around universities and hospitals and companies in Greater Boston, there are several challenges that Singapore will need to consider for future progress. This includes developing cohorts of clinician scientists, cutting-edge researchers, technical staff, regulators and investors who can cover the full talent pipeline needed for a new drug to be approved, discovered or made in Singapore. Particularly as technology affords the potential for patient-personalised medicine that is manufactured as close to the patient’s bedside as possible, and with many other options and opportunities in Asia and Southeast Asia, that deep bench of a forward-looking medical ecosystem will be crucial.
"Singapore is discussed as similar in size to the US cities of San Diego or Atlanta, but the difference is that it is an island nation with a strong history of and dependence on shipping and trade with partners all over the world. At that size, you would expect Singapore’s medical field to focus its attention locally, even as it connects globally, on intellectual leadership in and excellent treatment of medical conditions that are prevalent in Southeast Asia. This would include infectious diseases such as dengue and malaria, and on infections that are emergent and resistant to current antibiotics in even the best hospitals. But this must also include treatment of serious injuries when patients cannot be transported elsewhere, specific cancers of the population, and tissue degeneration—for example, neurodegeneration—associated with ageing so that quality of life in such a lively country remains high. Singapore has invested in two teams of researchers—including people from MIT in the US (like me) working closely with people in the Singapore universities, research institutions and hospitals—on new approaches to addressing antimicrobial resistance and on better ways to manufacture safe, effective and affordable new cell therapies for individual patients. The second investment is in data analytics. This is integral to understanding the links between the patient, the disease and the biological medicines that may provide relief. These are two of several examples of Singapore’s investment in medical and biotechnology areas, and build on earlier investments in stem cells and making protein-based medicines. Those are exciting starts in preparing for the future of medicine in Singapore, particularly as partnerships that connect to rapid biopharmaceutical advancements in countries with longer histories of lessons learned in drug development, regulation and biotechnology investment such as the US."
DR MEGAN EARLEY MCBEE, PROF PETER DEDON AND
PROF PETER PREISER
OF SINGAPORE-MIT ALLIANCE FOR RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY (SMART), MIT’S RESEARCH ENTERPRISE IN SINGAPORE,
ON ANTIMICROBAL RESISTANCE 2.0
The Singapore Government has long recognised the potential health consequences of an ageing population and Singapore’s hub status in Asia. Singapore’s society has an affinity towards technology, hence there is a push towards digital health, telemedicine and other means for physicians to track the health status of their ageing patients, which may reduce occurrence of chronic diseases and their related health problems. This reality is illustrated by the fact that more than 20 percent of the research, innovation and enterprise (RIE) 2020 budget is devoted to health and biomedical sciences with an additional 19 percent for innovation and enterprise. The RIE2020 budget prioritised five key disease areas that focus on chronic diseases and ageing: (i) cancers, (ii) cardiovascular diseases, (iii) diabetes mellitus and other metabolic/endocrine conditions, (iv) infectious diseases and (v) neurological and sense disorders. Additionally, within infectious diseases, the rapidly emerging crisis caused by antimicrobial resistance (AMR) was recognised. In 2016 and 2017, two independent high-profile reports gave staggering predictions for the not-too-distant future: AMR will eclipse cancer as the biggest killer in Singapore and worldwide by 2050, with an estimated 10 million people dying each year from AMR infections and economic losses approaching USD100 trillion, an impact comparable to the 2008 global financial crisis. The root causes of the AMR crisis have been identified as stalled production of new antibiotics, with a 90 percent drop in new drugs since 1980, coupled with the increased use of antibiotics in Singapore as well as around the world. Populated with immune-compromised patients, susceptible infants and elderly, and procedures requiring heavy use of antimicrobial agents, hospitals represent the major breeding ground for AMR infections. This scenario has culminated in the global spread of multi-drug resistant ‘superbugs’, together with the emergence of new resistance mechanisms, which now pose a serious threat to the global health system and raise the spectre of returning to the pre-antibiotic era with high death rates due to infections.
This crisis is being addressed in Singapore by research programmes aimed at the prevention and treatment of AMR. One, funded by the National Medical Research Council, involves major hospitals across Singapore focusing on identification methods, control strategies, antimicrobial stewardship, and health systems and behaviour drivers of AMR. The second programme is the AMR Interdisciplinary Research Group (AMR IRG), a collaborative translational research programme funded by the National Research Foundation of Singapore under SMART, MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore. The AMR IRG is leveraging talent and technologies from universities in Singapore and MIT to tackle AMR head-on by developing multiple innovative and disruptive approaches to identify, respond to and treat drug-resistant microbial infections. Spurred by its unique position regionally and gaining traction from investors as a country facilitating innovation and enterprise in healthcare—be it digital health, diagnostics or novel therapeutic approaches—combined with a regulatory willingness to work towards solutions, Singapore is poised to be at the forefront of novel solutions and therapies targeting AMR.
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