IDECS 2019: Michio Kaku says Sarawak is a ‘huge booster rocket’ carrying the digital economy

  • Chief Minister says the state can be on par with developed countries
  • Kaku remains convinced that education is the key to the future


Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg (left) with City College of New York Futurist and Professor of Theoretical Physics Michio Kaku

"THE image that came to mind when I came (to Sarawak) was that you have this huge booster rocket,” said Michio Kaku, futurist and Professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York (CUNY). “This gigantic rocket waiting to take off."

He was speaking at the International Digital Economy Conference Sarawak (IDECS) 2019 at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching, where he outlined the factors that he felt would work in Sarawak’s favour: A peaceful and educated populace, a government that wants to lead into the future, as he put it, “A (national) spirit that says, I want to be part of the future. I want to be part of this great digital revolution!"

If that seems a tad hyperbolic, it was in keeping with the spirit demonstrated by Abang Johari Openg, the Sarawak Chief Minister in his opening keynote speech at the conference.

"Sarawak can be (on) par with developed countries in its digital journey," he announced. "Either we push ahead in new research areas, or we will always be a follower."

The progress so far

Abang Johari highlighted several initiatives that are carrying Sarawak on its digital journey, including the Sarawak ID, Sarawak Pay and e-commerce facilities provided by the state.

"Twenty government services are now online, and registered Sarawak ID users benefit from the flexibility and ease of access to these services," he said, adding that as of 1 July, there were 208,644 registered Sarawak ID users.

Meanwhile, Sarawak Pay can count 91,640 registered users, with transactions value at RM 35 million as of 30 June 2019. "The target is to reach 150,000 users by year end."

There was also a recognition that infrastructure needs to be brought up to date. It is planned that a rollout of 300 telecommunication towers will be completed by the end of 2019. "These towers cover areas not served by commercial service providers due to the lack of potential for a financial return on investment."

The state government is also building cloud services, particularly to provide storage to cater for the expected surge generated by the Internet of Things (IoT) for verticals such as Smart City and agriculture.

“I foresee the demand for cloud infrastructure and services to continue its uptrend," he said, while acknowledging that these cloud services could be extended for use by the public and the private sector.

"I hope that there will be more private sector organisations coming forward to initiate and contribute to the development of our rural areas," he appealed, highlighting the "great opportunities" that investment in the state would bring.

Education is the fuel of the future

All this could be within Sarawak’s grasp in the not too distant future. Michio Kaku pointed out while previous iterations of industrialisation would take centuries, modern technologies mean that this jump could now just take decades, aided by the scaling opportunities afforded by modern technologies.

Stressing the need for education reform he said, "We have a great education system for people who live in the year 1950."

Instead, Kaku insists that the curriculum be brought up to date so that what is taught is relevant to peoples’ modern lives, and to focus on concepts and understanding, rather than rote memorisation.

"Memorisation will go out the window," he said grimly.

Kaku noted that in previous industrialisation cycles, those with a good education would jump on the technological bandwagon and speed ahead. His advice to those who think they are lagging is that they would do well to reinvent themselves by picking up a book, networking with forward thinkers, in order to understand the new culture.

"The fuel of the future is education," Kaku concluded.


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