Trading Post on the Digital Frontier

Vint Cerf visits Singapore

Vint Cerf was invited by the Singapore President Tony Tan to speak at the Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS) where 250 of the world’s outstanding PhDs and post-doctoral fellows under the age of 35 share and learn and get to know each other. He was one of 19 highly distinguished guests comprising Nobel Laureates, Fields Medalists, Millennium Technology Prize winners, and Turing Award winners. While Vint and this illustrious group very much inspired and engaged the young scientists – it was clear that these extraordinary young scientists greatly inspired and energized them in return! This fruitful inter-generational exchange was both heart-warming and productive, Singapore is to be congratulated for bringing them together in this the 5th annual meeting. GYSS is the brainchild of the National Research Foundation and initiated by Singapore President Tan when he was CEO of the organization which is an important steward for Singapore’s commitment to invest 1% of GDP to Research and Development to develop strategic capabilities.

Vint had a chance to visit the President of Singapore, the CEO of the National Research Foundation and with almost all the universities in Singapore and as a citizen and long-time friend of Singapore, I helped to set up meetings with the Minister of Health, GAN Kim Yong, Foreign Affairs Minister and Minister in charge of Smart Nation Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister for Communication and Information (ICT) Dr.Yaacob Ibraham ( a fellow Stanford alum of Vint’s)  and the Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam who holds responsibility for integrating the social and economic ministries to serve the people. We discovered real interest at these highest levels in Singapore in finding ways that they can share and contribute the lessons they have learned with the rest of the world – just as Singapore learned and benefited from others, they recognize the need and increasing responsibility to reach out and provide a helping hand.

Randeep Sudan who is the World Bank’s global Adviser on Digital Strategy and Government Analytics based in Singapore joined Vint Cerf in the meetings with the Monetary Authority of Singapore FinTech Innovation team, GovTech Innovation team, and the Minister for Communication and Information. With Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, Vint Cerf and Randeep identified Health Analytics as an important point of focus for many organizations and people to partner to harness the Internet for a better future for all the people of the world.

Health is a sweet spot for the People Centered Internet as our first meeting was sponsored by the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences. Founding Secretariat member, Dr. Ahmed Calvo is the leading pioneer in the deployment of networked improvement communities to improve health outcomes. Networked Improvement Communities and their essential role in the co-evolution of our human and tool systems were discussed1 at the World Library Summit in Singapore by Dr. Douglas Engelbart.

The conversations in Singapore triggered thinking about what might be ‘The Lewis and Clark expedition to the Digital Frontier”  which might be engaged with and financed by many players in the world. For if there had been no Lewis & Clark expedition, we could imagine that the Louisiana Purchase would have been exploited by wealthy and powerful interests carving out large privately controlled spheres of influence.

With the pioneering of the Oregon Trail – ordinary people could pursue their dreams with less danger and risk. With a general map to follow, the Trail was no longer a risky lonely maverick’s quest and it became an adventurous expedition with the company of others, learning from the experience of those who went before.

There were many problems.  Many people were disadvantaged, not least the native Americans who suffered greatly – but it unleashed economic opportunity and a way for the adventurous to learn by doing and by learning from others, learning and sharing with others. Vint Cerf asks “who will play Sacajawea on this digital expedition?”

Over 50 years passed after the expedition before Abraham Lincoln set out the Homestead Act in 1860 – giving property rights as an incentive for farming, institutionalizing the pioneering of what we now call the “Wild West”.

  1. Turing Award winner, Dr. Douglas Engelbart later gave a very similar talk at the IBM Co-evolution Symposium in 2003 – that paper “Improving Our Ability to Improve” can be found here 

Working out the civilizing of the digital frontier could become the major research challenge of our time. With GYSS and leading in FinTech and GovTech, Singapore may guide the way to the settlement of what we might call the World’s Wild Web.

Mei Lin Fung