Tech disruption an enabler, not job threat: Heng

It's better to think about how technology and human capacity can be combined, he says

Rather than seeing technological disruption as a threat to jobs, we should think about how it enables us to do more than would otherwise be possible, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

He noted: "Some people may say, 'Oh no, we are going to be disrupted, we are going to be displaced, and we humans are going to be out of a job.' But I really think that that is quite a negative way of thinking about it. Instead, it is helpful to consider the difference between jobs and tasks."

Jobs consist of different tasks - some that can be done by machines and some that "humans are uniquely placed to do", such as those involving judgment, creativity and human interactions.

"I think the future of work is an exciting future, and we should be thinking hard about how technology and human capacity can be combined in a much more meaningful way," added Mr Heng, who was speaking at the opening of PwC Singapore's new office at Marina One East Tower.

This includes how technology can enable a whole community to contribute ideas. He cited the redevelopment of Funan Mall, which is next to his office at The Treasury, as an example.

In an age of e-commerce, the IT mall has had to change from a shopping mall to "a lifestyle mall, an experience mall", he noted.

Using the Japanese landscaping concept of shakkei or borrowed scenery, he quipped that The Treasury could ride on the new Funan to advertise itself as the best place to work in the public service.

"We can go watch a movie, we can go watch a concert, a play, you can shop, you can eat, you can do all the things."

The future economy is really about the "future workplace", he said. This is not just about having a desk and a computer, but "a space which allows for creative energies of all our people to come together".

He commended PwC on its "future workplace", saying: "I thought that this is really exciting, and I hope that we can do a lot more of this."

In his role as Finance Minister, Mr Heng raised the issue of what kind of society Singapore should build. The fundamental question: "Do we care or do we fear?"

The choice, he said, is between a society where people are driven to contribute and help others do better, and one motivated by fear of enforcement. "I think it changes the nature of our society. We are a very young nation and I hope that we build that sense of care."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2018, with the headline 'Tech disruption an enabler, not job threat: Heng'. Print Edition | Subscribe