PI: Mr Poon King Wang (LKYCIC, SUTD)
Team: Dr Samuel Chng, Mr Norakmal Hakim bin Norhashim, Dr Thijs Willems, Dr Gayathri Haridas, Ms Sarah Gan Li Hui, Mr Mohamed Salihin Subhan, Mr Galvyn Goh Zi An, Ms Holly Lynn Apsley, Ms Radha Vinod, Mr Basil Lee Jiahao, Mr Wong Yuan Hao, Ms Catherine Chang Hui Lin, Mr Devesh Narayanan, Mr Zach Tan Zhi Ming  (LKYCIC, SUTD)
(see also Smart Cities Lab, and Living with Technology – Future of Work, Education and Healthcare)

Future Digital Economies and Digital Societies examines the impact of digital technologies on our economies and societies. It explores the economic and social issues around the accessibility, affordability and adoption of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) digital innovations by citizens, communities, companies, cities and countries. It will also explore the combinatorial possibilities of these 4IR technologies, so as to yield new insights into the systemic opportunities around how societies can remain inclusive in the face of digital disruption. Future Digital Economies and Digital Societies thus aims to be a guide to how we can transform ourselves in the face of digital disruption, and create the economic and social value that makes lives better for everyone.

The project builds on the insights and issues identified in the book Living Digital 2040: Future of Work, Education and Healthcare, which is based on the National Research Foundation/Ministry of National Development-funded foresight/futures project Living with Technology – Future of Work, Education and Healthcare (under the LKYCIC’s Future of Cities Programme).

The project also works with Smart Cities Lab (under the Chen Tianqiao Programme in Urban Innovation), to better understand the synergies and overlaps between smart cities, digital economies, digital societies, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Two major thrusts in the project are Future of Work, and Digital Societies.

Future of Work

In Future of Work, we are exploring three approaches to empower workers, company managers and leaders, HR practitioners, union leaders, and policy makers.

The first is our task-based approach. Here we are building both a task database for Singapore, and a set of comprehensive strategies that go with the use of such a database. The focus on tasks is deliberate. Leading labor economists, academics, consultancies, companies, and think tanks are all converging on the consensus that the right resolution to tackle the future of work is at the task level; this is because jobs are increasingly transformed and disrupted not job by job, by task by task. We used this simple insight and turned it into a whole body of research to show how we can chart clear task transition pathways between jobs, how we can track disruption, and how we can invest in the technologies that increase the value and meaning of the tasks and in turn the jobs themselves. All to give everyone greater confidence and capacity to tackle an uncertain future. A brief explanation of our task-based approach can be found in two articles on what the future of smart cities could be, and on how we can help people with their everyday challenges.

The second approach is technology adoption, where we study how we can increase the odds that a new technology introduced — whether in a company or a city or country — will be adopted at scale. This is a critical challenge: as companies, cities, and countries undergo digital transformation, which will invariably involve the adoption of successive waves of innovations. Failure to adopt will stymie any transformation efforts and the broader strategies they are under. Factors that need to considered include economic ones (e.g. incentives, discounts) and non-economic ones. In the latter, dimensions such past and present experiences and attitudes will matter. As we make our efforts to increase adoption more human-centered, a deeper understanding of culture and the benefits of adoption will thus become increasingly important, even essential.

Our third approach is mastery. With each transition and technology adoption, each of us must develop sufficient depth in our expertise in our chosen job, task, skill, and/or competency. This ensures we do our work well, builds a bulwark against ongoing displacement and disruption, and nurtures a culture of excellence in and for lifelong learning. Research areas relevant to mastery include include how we learn, how we practice, how we design, how we augment our tasks with technologies, and even how we protect the cognitive capacities that matter to us (also available in French).

Digital Societies

The Digital Societies project examines the societal impacts of digital technologies and digital transformation in Singapore. Our research revolves around four broad themes: (1) identity; (2) online harms; (3) community; and (4) socio-economic stratification.

This research project is funded by the Ministry of Communications and Information, and has received ethics approval from the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Institutional Review Board.


The advent of a ‘digital society’ has led to concerns around differential access to digital technologies, and interest in changing attitudes to promote technology adoption. We take a different approach. Instead of treating technology adoption as an attitudinal issue, we seek to understand the contexts behind people’s technology decisions. This means examining the personal, as well as socio-cultural and economic factors which shape how people choose to adopt, utilise, give meaning to, and become affected by technologies. Currently, our research focuses on the technology experiences of three different generations of Singaporeans:

  1. Youths (between 13 and 17 years old)
  2. Middle-aged Singaporeans (30 to 50 years old)
  3. Older Singaporeans (60 years old and above)

Online Harms

Harmful behaviours perpetrated through digital technologies and the Internet have become a pertinent issue today. Such behaviours range from harassment and bullying to cyberstalking and the circulation of intimate images online (also known as image-based sexual abuse). In this research strand, we seek to understand the landscape of online harms in Singapore. This includes:

  1. The types of online harms that are experienced;
  2. The role that digital technologies play in enabling harm;
  3. The impact of online harms on individuals; and
  4. The barriers and/or challenges individuals have faced in seeking help and support

As part of our research, we have also partnered with the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) Singapore to build a resource for people experiencing image-based sexual abuse.

This research strand has been approved by the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Institutional Review Board (IRB 20-293). If you have concerns about the research, please contact the Principal Investigator, Mr Poon King Wang, at poonkingwang[@]sutd[.]edu[.]sg. Alternatively, you can contact the Chair of the SUTD Institutional Review Board, Lucienne Blessing at lucienne_blessing[@]sutd[.]edu[.]sg (Note: please remove the square brackets in the email addresses).


Digital technologies have changed the ways in which people connect, engage, and interact with those around them. To understand the societal impacts of these changes, we draw on ‘community’ as a social unit of analysis. Here, we conceptualise ‘community’ in terms of belonging, such that community refers to a group of people who feel that they belong to the group; and a member of a community is someone who feels that they belong to the group. Using a historically, theoretically, and empirically informed perspective, we seek to examine:

  1. The changes to communities in a digital society;
  2. How digital technologies changes the way people negotiate and constitute belonging; and
  3. The issues that come with these changes

Socio-Economic Stratification

Attitudes, perceptions, usage, and imaginaries of future digital technologies appear to be stratified along socio-economic lines. In this research strand, we examine how socio-economic stratification frames:

  1. The level and quality of use of digital technologies, with a focus on technology use during the recent COVID-19 pandemic,
  2. Preparedness towards emergent trends and issues in the digital society – including privacy, trust, security, surveillance and algorithmic decision-making, and
  3. Socio-technical imaginaries, with a focus on how Singaporeans imagine and form beliefs about the concepts of the ‘smart nation’, the ‘digital economy’, and the ‘digital society’.

Further, recognising that socio-economic stratification is itself mediated by new digital technologies, we examine how technology impacts stratification by focusing on the emergent class of digitally-enabled gig workers.

1 April 2017


Polarising of Job Opportunities: Charting New Pathways and Adopting New Technologies – conducted in collaboration with Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute

Digital and Smart Transformation – conducted in collaboration with a government linked entity

Tackling digital disruption: Industry transformations and workforce resilience – conducted in collaboration with CIO Academy Asia under a Social Science Research Thematic Grant from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC)

Digital Societies – conducted in collaboration with Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI)

Assessing impact of AI on work tasks and the future of occupations in banking, advanced manufacturing, insurance, and creative industries (forthcoming link) – conducted in collaboration France-Singapore think tank Live with AI

Living Digital 2040: Future of Work, Education, and Healthcare — published book from the project Future of Cities: Living with Technology funded by the National Research Foundation and the Ministry of National Development under the Land and Liveability National Innovation Challenge




State of People+Digital Transformation Survey (Beta version) – conducted in collaboration with IoT Asia 2018