Imagine Miss Internet beauty contests. Courtrooms with video-conferencing for faraway witnesses. Computerized bus stops that monitor buses to tell impatient commuters when to expect a ride.
In tiny Singapore, the fascination with high-tech can border on the surreal, and it's as much a government effort as a public obsession. The plan is nothing less than to transform the Southeast Asian city-state of 3.1 million people into an "Intelligent Island."
This micro-managed country seems well on its way. According to 1997 statistics, 41 percent of all households have computers and 400,000 Singaporeans are regular Internet users, roughly 13 percent of the population; both percentages are about the same as those for the United States.
In 1991, the government unveiled its IT2000 plan, which aims to make vast reservoirs of electronic information and services available to all Singaporeans. In 1996, the government embarked on a plan to link every office, home and school to an ultra-fast national multimedia network, Singapore ONE. Officials say 90 percent of the population can now access it.
"Access to Singapore ONE will eventually be almost as pervasive as access to telephone services," Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said.
Today, about half of the world's hard disk drives and most of Apple's latest iMac computers are produced here, while a homegrown star, Creative Technology, produces about 60 percent of the world's PC sound cards. Last year, $1.27 billion in private and public money was invested in research and development.
In 1997, about 36,000 people worked in Singapore's silicon economy, worth an estimated $5.36 billion in a gross domestic product of $78.8 billion.
Written by Jonathan Drake