Festival of Ideas 2023: Pioneers in Innovation

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By Anamika Ragu (23A01A) and Fiona Ting (24S06A)

All photographs by Raffles Photographic Society.

Day 3 of the Festival of Ideas brought with it a great deal of promise—attendees ranged from CEOs of successful startups to environmentalists and policymakers concerned about the intersection of issues. 

Attendees of FOI Day 3 engaged in active discussion in the packed hall during the intermission.

Expectations for the night therefore rose skyward, as evinced by ushers being instructed to be more alert of seat allocations to students and visitors. The school expected a massive turnout for the night—if not for the subject matter, then for the exciting speakers.

The night opened with Mr Musa Fazal (RJC ’2000, Senior Director at MTI), who set the stage by pointing out the discrepancy between Singapore’s wildly successful startups and our slowdown in research and development investment.  Additionally, he introduced the different perceptions of artificial intelligence (AI) for the upcoming panel discussion. 

Mr Musa Fazal’s opening presentation at FOI Day 3.

“As part of my preparation for this presentation, I relied on ChatGPT, which also recommended I talk about ChatGPT,” he recounted, evoking laughter. “I guess it also has some narcissistic streaks.”

He ended with a bittersweet musing on the various cultural divides in Singapore, pointing out that they may actually contribute to our potential to “turn adversity into strength, vulnerability to inspiration”.

“If I can help in shepherding our resources for good, then I have faith in contributing to tonight’s discussion. Ubuntu, I am as we are.”

Mr Musa Fazal

Following the opening speech that set the tone for thought-provoking discussions, a fireside chat was held with Razer CEO Tan Min-Liang. Mr Tan’s introduction in particular was met with raucous applause and cheers, which persisted as he climbed on stage.

Mr Tan Min-Liang engaged in fireside Q&A at FOI Day 3.

Among the many topics brought up, the duo chatted about Mr Tan’s tweet that very day about how Twitter should buy Silicon Valley Bank, whether gaming is a force for good or bad, Razer’s meteoric rise to global recognition, and impediments to innovation.

On the last point, Mr Tan  readily answered with one word: “structure.” This inspired further discussion on the current education system and whether it was entirely appropriate for the current global landscape. 

Two panel discussions on intersecting issues came next: technology as a subject of national and interpersonal security, and inclusivity in STEM. 

Panel discussions for the night.

The former, comprising Gaurav Keerthi (CEO and Co-Founder of better.sg, and Deputy Chief Executive of CSA) and James Chan (Founder and CEO of Ion Mobility) most notably discussed privacy, and who should be a moral arbiter for something as pervasive as technology.

“Society reacts; we must redefine privacy given what we choose to share online,” urged Mr Keerthi. “The bigger you are on the public stage, the more you have to accept that what you say can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion.”

Mr Keerthi & Mr Chan at FOI Day 3.

Both panellists agreed on their faith in the younger generation to be able to facilitate a cultural shift that allows concepts such as virtual openness and personal boundaries to coexist: “people will adapt; they’ll figure it out”.

The second panel discussion consisted of Ms Ainul Md Razib (software developer at ThoughtWorks and content creator), Ms Kong Man Jing (Co-Founder and host of Just Keep Thinking), and Mrs Viveka Kalidasan (head of Let-Lab). They discussed female representation in the tech space as a form of inspiration as well as jargon-free communication with the masses.

Ms Ainul, Ms Kong, and Mrs Kalidasan at FOI Day 3.

“Pregnancy should not impede the innovation process.” Sharing her experience at A*STAR, Mrs Kalidasan commended A*STAR for its inclusive facilities—the building had many nursing rooms, facilities that many other working spaces do not have but should, given the large number of working mothers.

Mrs Kalidasan at FOI Day 3

The final act of the night was a debate on the motion “Singaporeans suck at startups”. Audience members were given a chance to vote on their thoughts prior to the debate, and preliminary sentiments were skewed towards the Proposition, comprising Mr Ashish Kumar, Digital Strategy Manager at MCI, and Mr Lien Choong Luen, General Manager at Gojek. 

Proposition of the debate on FOI Day 3 making their arguments.

Their arguments included Singaporeans’ tendency against risk-taking, the structure of the education system such that “the government sucks up our best and brightest”, and even a reinterpretation of the Singapore Story. 

“We did not decide to become independent … We did not create the startup; we never wanted to be a startup— we just made it work.”

Mr Ashish Kumar

This took out one of the Opposition’s (comprising Mr Isaac Timothy Tay, Vice President of ShopBack, and Ms Claire Tan, Policy Specialist, Trust & Safety at Google) main arguments: that the Singapore story was driven by entrepreneurial spirit. But all was not lost: the Opposition bit back with a redefinition of startups. 

Opposition of the debate on FOI Day 3 making their arguments.

Ms Tan explained that instead of pure risk, “startups are places where we are able to thrive in conditions of uncertainty”, which is something Singapore has often done. They made appeals based on Singapore’s miraculous growth and bold moves, and brought in numbers of their own to prove their case. 

“Singapore produces more unicorns than most of the other countries of similar growth periods.” 

Ms Claire Tan

With strong cases brought forth on each side, the audience had a mammoth decision to make; ultimately, the Proposition won on a very close vote. However, the diverse opinions of the night made it clear that issues of innovation and entrepreneurship are far more complex than meets the eye.

Group photo: closing segment of FOI Day 3.

At the end of the day, there is always something to be said about the human aspect— our benefits, costs, emotional highs and lows— of any sort of innovation. As technology changes, there is much talk about how the way we facilitate ourselves will change— reinventing education, healthcare, living spaces, our personal values, and so much more. Is such a change welcome or warranted? That is for us to decide.

Interested to know more about the Festival of Ideas conducted as part of RI200 celebrations? Look no further— read on to find out!

Festival of Ideas: Thinkers in Society

Festival of Ideas: Leaders in Sustainability

Festival of Ideas: Pulling Back the Curtain

461420cookie-checkFestival of Ideas 2023: Pioneers in Innovation


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