Prepare for social disruption from tech advances

Singapore must be ready, not only for economic disruption, but also for social disruption ("Economic disruption and our children's future"; Oct 12).

In the next few years, technological advances in artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, augmented reality, self-driving cars and robots will complement humans to achieve much more through higher productivity.

But this will result in an oversupply of workers, as humans are made redundant by machines.

Undoubtedly, we are entering a new era of unprecedented disruption, where the merger of human and machine intelligence, together with the fusion of the physical and cyber worlds, will create a societal shift so profound that it will change the way we live, work and relate to one another.

Technology has the power to lower barriers to create equal opportunities for everyone. But the opposite is more likely to happen, as more people will be displaced by it.

The problem with the technology-driven economy is that while it will increase total wealth, it favours a very small group of individuals much more than others.

Data has shown that technological advancement has accelerated the rise in global wealth inequality. Inequality can easily trigger social upheaval and must be tackled before it wreaks havoc.

Therefore, as we head into this new era, we need to rethink the meaning of life if human work is no longer required, and renegotiate how the gains from the more productive economy can be better distributed.

For this reason, I have joined the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre to build a technology-driven platform to connect the many different helping hands through an ecosystem to address the growing needs in a more collaborative and holistic way.

Through this model, individuals, companies, beneficiaries, non-profit organisations, interest groups and the Government can come together to understand the changing needs, co-create solutions to cover the last mile and build the linkages among partners to achieve greater impact.

The future will be bright if we can integrate doing well and doing good, and help everyone navigate through this period of difficult transition.

It is time for us to stop worrying for our children's future and start learning from them in seeing the world through their eyes.

Their intuitive nature of fusing human and machine as well as work and life may be the key to unlocking our future.

Andy Sim Ngee Ho

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2016, with the headline 'Prepare for social disruption from tech advances'. Print Edition | Subscribe