The Straits Times Future Economy Forum

The Straits Times Future Economy Forum: Job loss due to disruptive technology 'can create divisions'

Office crowd in Central Business District.
Office crowd in Central Business District.PHOTO: ST FILE

The loss of jobs from disruptive technology could create divisions between the haves and have-nots in society, a corporate leader at a forum on the future economy warned yesterday.

This disparity "between those robbed of stability and those who thrive on disruption" will grow, added Mr Max Loh, Asean and Singapore managing partner of professional services company EY.

To prevent it, the Government and companies need to work closely with workers to pick up new skills, especially those whose jobs are threatened by automation.

Looking ahead, he sees more jobs being "unbundled". But there is a bright side: Singaporeans will be part of a maturing economy of freelancers and micro-entrepreneurs and, as technology increases productivity, they can expect more leisure time.

This scenario was among several painted by the committee at The Straits Times Future Economy Forum, which sought to picture what Singapore's socio-economic landscape could look like 20 years down the road. The forum at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, attended by about 450 guests, was sponsored by EY, oil company Shell Singapore, DBS Bank and healthcare group Parkway Pantai.


Dr Kelvin Loh, chief executive of Parkway Pantai's Singapore operations division, said technology could usher in a new era of "hospitals without walls".

Instead of sick people going to hospitals, doctors would assess them remotely and send electronic prescriptions to pharmacies, which would deliver the medicines.

New algorithms and genetic testing could make healthcare predictive rather than reactive, he said, adding: "You will find the disease and do something about it before the disease finds you."

DBS Singapore's country head Sim S. Lim described an experimental digital bank in India where clients engage with artificial intelligence. "We hope to bring it to Singapore," he said. "Financial technology is giving us a run for our money. If we don't innovate, we will die."

Singaporeans too have to play their part in preparing for the tough times such disruption brings, said Shell Singapore chairman Goh Swee Chen. "Do we point at the Government and say, find us a way? I disagree with this way forward.

"We need to start looking after ourselves better and drop the managed economy mindset that has compromised so much of our resilience." She added: "In the future, we need to create an environment where success is not defined by size. To make our future count, we must step up and redefine what makes life worthwhile."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline 'Job loss due to disruptive technology 'can create divisions''. Subscribe