Singapore Journal: Dispatch From the Future.

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Editor’s note: Paula Ellis is Knight Foundation’s vice president of strategic initiatives. She is currently traveling in Singapore. Below is a dispatch she sent in last night.

Singapore, one of the world’s most admired economies and a leader in Asia, has identified digital media as an emerging economic sector that could propel its continued growth. I met Friday with Sng Cheng Hong Dennis and Ngiam Shing Shian of the Media Development Authority. They oversee the Interactive and Digital Media Program. Like most Singaporeans I have met, they are imaginative about the future and pragmatic about the now.

Just imagine this. Early in my visit, I toured the Singapore Botanic Gardens to see if the varieties of orchids and ginger were similar to those back home in Miami. The walk was lovely, but it would have been so much nicer if I could have shared it with my husband. Today, I could call him while walking or send streaming video once home. What if, the cloth of my garments was woven with fiber that allowed me to transmit the sights, sounds and smells of my stroll through the lush gardens? What if, I could touch the bark of a tree and it would send back home a piece of the experience?

What if? What if?

That doesn’t seem far off when visiting with Shing and Dennis. Shing is excited about the developments in language mediation and it is one of the several areas of focus for which they are bringing some of the best universities from around the world together in Singapore. If you’ve played Gambit, then you’ve benefited from their boundary-spanning approach to creative collaboration. Gambit was developed here with Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are six other games here on path to be commercialized. And they’ve just announced a contest for games that can be played across platforms: on the computer, the game console and mobile phone. This grant program is intended to popularize games outside the current hardcore user market.

And who could go shopping in Second Life without their gold card from FirstMeta bank, invented here. As anyone who has scoured Orchard Road for bargains knows, Singapore is first in all things shopping. So it’s no wonder it was invented here first.

This is just a taste of what’s in the works here. Later this year, the digital media initiative, will move into new digs at the Innovation and Research Hub where Biopolis now pursues biomedical research. This new research cluster for infocomms, media and sciences will be known as Fusionopolis. These entrepreneurial, idea hubs are located in a planned community known locally as One North in Buona Vista. The education department is located nearby as is Wessex Estate, a residential community filled with parks, cafes and other amenities. Here Singapore is building a work, live and play community to attract creative, knowledge economy workers. I checked it out earlier in the week as part of the World Cities Summit for Liveable and Vibrant Cities.

Why call it One North? Singapore is one degree north of the equator.

What do you think of Singapore?