Is there a similarity between Singapore and Google? One's a little city state, the other an internet giant, but both have come up fast and have been immensely successful. Google, which will be 10 years old next month, dominates the Net. As its Corporate Information page says, "Google is the closest thing the Web has to an ultimate answer machine." Singapore has also been a remarkable success story, becoming the second richest country in Asia since its independence in August 1965.
No one expected Google to become what it is today when it started as a simple search page, when Yahoo! and Microsoft were the internet giants. Singapore's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, says he was unsure of Singapore's future when the island was expelled from Malaysia.
Google's home page is white, the colour favoured by Singapore's ruling People's Action Party as a symbol of clean government. Transparency and clean government are the watchwords of the Singapore government, which is vigilant in its fight against corruption. "Do no evil" is the motto of Google.
Google is constantly innovating. Singapore is also known for its social engineering, which includes a massive public housing scheme which has helped more than 90 percent of Singaporeans live in their own homes and a government matchmaking agency to help Singaporeans get married.
Google is controversial, so is Singapore. Both have been criticised by human rights organisations: Google is seen as a threat to privacy while Singapore is rapped for lack of freedom of the media among other things. In fact, what made me think of the similarities between Singapore and Google was the Observer article, Google, 10 years in: big, friendly giant or a greedy Goliath? Incidentally, I love Singapore and Google.
Andrew Keen, a British-born author and entrepreneur in California's Silicon Valley, says about Google: "They have amassed more information about people in 10 years than all the governments of the world put together. They make the Stasi and the KGB look like the innocent old granny next door. This is of immense significance. If someone evil took them over, they could easily become Big Brother."
Singapore's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, also worries about how Singapore could be ruined by bad leadership.
Keen also says about Google: "They're absolutely in the business of revolutionising the nature of knowledge; search has become integral in the way we think and act. In 50 or 100 years' time, when the real histories get written of the internet, it will start with those two boys (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) at Stanford."
Singapore is also having a revolutionary effect. Lee Kuan Yew has spoken about how Singapore has become a model for economic development that is different from the Western democracies. China and Russia are following the Singapore model of economic development, he said.
Is Google making us stupid, asked the writer Nicholas Carr, discussing Google's effect on human knowledge and intelligence. It is no longer necessary to remember everything now that we can learn instantly whatever we want to know by simply clicking on a search engine.
Singapore is revolutionising ideas too. A columnist in the Straits Times, Singapore's leading newspaper, described Singapore and China as "authoritarian states" and praised them for their economic success. The columnist recalled a Japanese entrepreneur saying it would be good for the world if the Singapore model could be replicated in other countries, improving their economies.
What was remarkable about the article is that it used the word "authoritarian" without a hint of criticism. Not even China calls itself an authoritarian state, maybe because it thinks there is a stigma to the word. China calls itself a people's republic, a socialist republic. But in Singapore the leading newspaper's political columnist praised Singapore and China as successful "authoritarian states" — and that became one of the most popular articles on the newspaper's website. Singapore is having a Google effect, too, transforming ideas and attitudes.