Whilst reading two reports from The White House on artificial intelligence (AI) - Preparing for the future of artificial intelligence and Artificial intelligence, automation and the economy - I found that there are common perspectives and attitudes towards AI.
"Technology is not destiny,” one report read. “Economic incentives and public policy can play a significant role in shaping direction and effects of technological change."
As an outside observer tracking carefully the kind of policies and directions governments are implementing around AI, I realised we are reaching a crucial point in the way we talk about and view AI.
The decisions and policy we implement now in Singapore will have lasting impacts on the development and evolution of the technology - for better or worse. How we channel AI, the lense we see it through and how we talk about it amongst our partners and colleagues matters.
In Singapore we have a tendency to view AI as a technology for economic productivity. The debate in government departments, on entrepreneur panels, and amongst ecosystem builders around AI is usually set against a backdrop of how it can grow GDP and economic efficiency.
Invariably, this most often takes the form of discussions focused on the future of job displacement as a byproduct of AI reducing the demand for unskilled labour. Directly related to the jobs issue, it’s easy to get caught up in the impact of AI-driven automation, thinking that automation is the most central issue.
I don’t necessarily agree with that: automation can, and will, be done without AI. Automation might not, in fact, even be a primary goal of AI. Viewing AI as a kind of tool for automation would be very narrow perception of AI; we should introduce wider and more creative applications into the public debate.
AI will be used to develop and advance numerous fields and industries, including finance, healthcare, education, transportation, and more - and in some cases it will create more jobs than it displaces. That’s how a productive, free-market capitalist society works. And Singapore is certainly that, which is why AI will thrive so well here.
Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, in their book The Second Machine Age, wrote: “Over the next decade, AI won’t replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace those who don’t.”
Read that again and let it sink in.
If we are going to focus on the jobs issue, I’d at least like to see a positive spin: how we can use the new opportunities being created by AI in our daily work, rather than focusing on the ways AI is going to take that work away from us.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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As an investor and serial entrepreneur, Joel's lifelong goal is to invest in and support 10,000 innovative individuals and companies around the world focusing on AI, FinTech, and Smart City innovations. Recently, leveraging his experience as the co-founder of the world’s largest FinTech hub LATTICE80, Joel is passionately committed to launching an AI hub called ‘DeepBase’ globally.
Joel has written widely on the topic of AI, FinTech, Blockchain, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship for publications including The Business Times, Yahoo, Tech In Asia and Singapore Business Review, and has volunteered actively as a mentor for startups. As an Affiliate Faculty at the Singapore Management University (SMU), he lectures on AI and FinTech.
He was selected as a LinkedIn Power Profile (Top 8) for Singapore in Finance in 2018. Joel holds an MBA from the National University of Singapore Business School.