Economic change ceases to be a threat when it becomes a reality. It pushes nations from one level of development to a higher one through the creative destruction of old economic forms and the generation of new means of social organisation and belonging. History moves forward. It is the onset of change that is problematic because social forces lag behind economic advances and there is no common road map because the road itself has not appeared. Like other countries, Singapore finds itself today at that difficult time when the inevitability of change is clear but when social habits and expectations are clinging to a receding present. Navigating the way forward presents a challenge to the state, the market and the people.
This National Day presents a moment of opportunity to Singaporeans to ponder that challenge. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an example of the quixotic mood of the times. AI's transformative potential is revolutionary. But in an article on AI, Dr Henry Kissinger, the grand master of American diplomacy, has compared humanity's situation today to that of the Incas before the arrival of smallpox and the Spanish. Clearly, AI's power has to be harnessed if the Fourth Industrial Revolution is to take off, but humans must not end up being harnessed to its power. How this can be done, in the absence of a universal regime with the authority to regulate scientific research and development, poses an existential question.