Technology 'could deepen inequality as workers are displaced', says DBS CEO

Mr Piyush Gupta, chief executive officer of DBS Group Holdings Ltd,  at the Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore, on Sept 14, 2017.
Mr Piyush Gupta, chief executive officer of DBS Group Holdings Ltd, at the Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore, on Sept 14, 2017.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Technology has the potential to create a "useless" class of workers displaced by artificial intelligence and automation, even as wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a few, said DBS Group Holdings chief executive Piyush Gupta.

These seismic shifts are resulting in mounting uncertainty about the future and causing anger and alarm - which have contributed to the recent pushbacks against globalisation, he added.

Mr Gupta was on a panel at the Milken Institute Asia Summit, held over two days at the Four Seasons Hotel.

The event featured a slew of high-profile speakers, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former United States vice-president Al Gore, who talked about the next step in the movement to combat climate change as well as prospects for the renewable energy sector.

Mr Gupta, whose panel yesterday discussed major trends shaping the world in the coming decades, said that the populist revolt sweeping across the developed world is ostensibly a reaction to globalisation but also points to deeper issues.

"The impact of technology is vastly underestimated," he noted.

Technological advances will mean fewer jobs. This, combined with the rise of "Big Tech" - giant technology companies - will likely result in resources, wealth and power being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

"We are hurtling down a path...of creating a 'useless' class, where there previously was a working class... That's the cry of anger, concern and alarm that we're hearing."

There will be "fewer traditional jobs as we know it", said Mr Gupta. Instead of large corporations employing many workers, he expects a movement back towards small-scale enterprises driven by entrepreneurship and self-sustaining employment.

Jobs in banking, for instance, are already shrinking due to technological displacement - including in his organisation, Mr Gupta said. "Convenience and functionality will improve for consumers but it will not be through job creation."

In response, fellow panellist Joaquim Levy, the managing director and group chief financial officer at the World Bank Group, said the impact of technology can be difficult to predict.

"When ATMs were invented, people thought tellers would disappear," he noted. Instead, their roles have changed and they now advise customers in addition to dispensing cash.

"The types of jobs will change but this doesn't mean finance will shrink," added Mr Levy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2017, with the headline 'Technology 'could deepen inequality as workers are displaced''. Print Edition | Subscribe