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From the Practical to the Possible: Zilliqa on Charting the Trajectory of Singapore’s Innovation Journey

Over the past year, fueled in part by the Covid-19 pandemic, digitalisation of services has boomed. With everyone forced to stay home, online offerings have been more important than ever, with businesses failing to keep up being left behind. 

Singapore has seen a particular bout of innovation, and someone who knows all about this is Amrit Kumar, the President, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder of Zilliqa, A homegrown high-performance, high-security blockchain platform. Focusing predominantly on areas of security, privacy and applied cryptography, Amrit’s research has been widely published at conferences such as IEEE/IFIP and IFIP TC-11 SEC.

Here Amrit discusses Singapore’s innovation journey. 

Amrit Kumar, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Zilliqa

Throughout the past year, the concept of digitalisation has thrummed across conversations among policymakers and entrepreneurs alike. No longer a nice-to-have but a must, businesses as much as the societies they serve have been forced to adapt as we transition to an increasingly digitised state of affairs. Arguably prompted by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, methods and means that favour the virtual, the remote, and the automated have been preferred. 

In no other part of the world has this been more pronounced than Singapore. In recent months, digital transformation has played a pivotal role in informing the government’s pandemic mitigation and recovery strategies. From practical applications to investments in emerging technologies, the Lion City has placed the trust in tech to not only weather the pandemic but to prepare its population for an increasingly digital future. 

Scan and Tap

From east to west, contact tracing regimes were gradually implemented across various stages of the pandemic as it spread across the globe. In going beyond phone calls and manual efforts at identifying close contacts, Singapore was at the forefront of successfully implementing a robust tech-enabled contact tracing programme. Both through a mobile app or a wearable token to accommodate seniors without smartphones, these efforts have been essential to uncovering potential clusters of infection with greater accuracy. Though not without its controversy among privacy advocates, Singapore’s model has highlighted the potential of leveraging technologies to bridge the gap where human efforts can fall short. 

As borders gradually re-open, the country’s national carrier — Singapore Airlines — has rolled out a digital verification tool to allow airport staff to confirm and validate the negative test results of passengers as well as future vaccination status. Meanwhile, healthcare networks are actively partnering with entities such as Accredify to enable verifiably, tamper-proof digital Covid-19 swab results powered by blockchain. 

On a more practical level, the government equally pointed to the need for greater adoption of digital infrastructures to ensure business continuity. In hard-hit sectors such as F&B and retail, businesses received US$5.2 million as part of the Digital Resilience Bonus by November 2 020 alone, kickstarting their digital journeys be it in terms of e-commerce onboarding or digital payments tools. Similarly, the Monetary Authority of Singapore encouraged a transition to ePayment solutions such as QR code mobile payment systems and PayNow, a peer-to-peer funds transfer service accepted by the country’s 9 major banks, to boost social distancing and contactless payments.

The Building Blocks to Success

To onlookers, Singapore’s emphasis on tech adoption should come as no surprise. Driven by a dedicated Smart Nation agenda, the city-state has long pioneered a progressive attitude towards emerging technologies, implementing them across multiple levels of government and society at large. Towards the end of 2020, the government announced that it would be investing US$8.9 million into the Singapore Blockchain Innovation Programme in order to encourage further development, adoption, and commercialisation of the technology and its resulting applications, especially in trade finance, supply chain, logistics, as well as digital identity. Driven by the need for far more “trusted and reliable business systems in a new digital world”, Singapore is clearly looking to blockchain to accelerate its journey as a smart nation.

In spite of the challenges of the past year, MAS’ Project Ubin, a blockchain-based, multi-currency payments network successfully completed its fifth and final phase, pointing to its commercial potential. With applications across digital currencies, digital identities, and asset tokenisation, Project Ubin is reflective of the government and its associated bodies’ appetite for experimentation. Ultimately grounded in cross-sector and cross-border collaboration, the network is poised to propel the country to new heights as a leader in blockchain adoption. 

The vision is seemingly achievable with the country now trailing far ahead of traditional tech hubs such as the United Kingdom and Japan according to the recently released Singapore Blockchain Ecosystem Report 2020. Today, the country sees a plethora of projects across 26 different categories and in 8 different industries including peer-to-peer payments and variants of fintech. Backed by academic support, the country is home to researchers from top-ranking universities who have contributed valuable findings surrounding privacy, scalability, and smart contract security. In fact, Zilliqa was born out of the research laboratories of the National University of Singapore, joining homegrown projects who have established themselves global players within the broader blockchain ecosystem. 

Alongside institutional interest, businesses are fast recognising the potential — as part of the Singapore Blockchain Ecosystem Report 2020, PwC Singapore found that 80%t of surveyed Singaporean companies expressed optimism of the technology, naming it as one of their top three tech priorities for the year. Similarly, greater emphasis has been placed not only on encouraging the next generation of talent but also upskilling today’s professionals, managers, executives, and technicians (PMETs) to equip them with necessary skills to excel in the digital economy. The Report makes mention of programmes such as Zilliqa’s ZILHive Education and the ConsenSys Academy Developer Program that have played a significant role in imparting a broad range of skills across coding, business development, and organisational change. 

Sustaining the Digital Journey Ahead

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the vast digital inequalities across both developed and developing economies alike. Singapore has stood firm as an example that the promise and premise of innovation must be approached with equitability in mind. With access not limited to well-versed developers or the financial elite, the country’s commitment to research, education, and boosting digital literacy has ensured that the fruits of this digital revolution can be enjoyed by many, rather than a select few. Whether in terms of enabling greater business efficiencies or democratising access to wealth, Singapore’s pragmatic approach to both regulating and applying emerging technologies such as blockchain has done exactly that. 

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