This is a continuation of the series on AI and Its Impending Disruption.
What will the future look like? I am confident it will be quite different from our world a decade ago. The technological advancements powered by developments in AI will ensure that the changes are rapid, transformative and disruptive. Described below are some of the sectors which could be disrupted and the implications which follow.
Case 1: Transportation
With autonomous driving vehicles, the technology is already here (e.g. Changi Airport using autonomous vehicles to move baggage and equipment on the airport tarmac). Fine-tuning the technology and having the legal framework in place to ensure safety and attribution of responsibility will be critical for the rollout of the technology. Meanwhile, we can expect this technology to impact:
· car industry — sharing of vehicles with storage compartments for different users, leading to fewer cars required; Downsizing of cars to allow for ferrying of individuals, thus reducing overall carbon footprint, traffic and potentially free up spaces currently used for roads and parking
· transportation of goods e.g. automated trucks, planes and ships leading to more affordable shipment rates, possibly reducing the cost of goods
· mass transit systems — to continue transporting large numbers of people in built up areas and supplemented by autonomous vehicles for the last mile connection with destination with vehicles communicating to synchronise pick up of passenger from door to door
· urban spaces — reduction of parking spaces in built-up areas since cars can drive themselves to the suburban parking lots and compress park (or stack) with minimal separation space between them, leading to an increase of space for recreation and living
· oil and electricity — energy savings with fewer vehicles needed (in the sharing economy)
· logistics — delivery of non-expensive products (e.g. food, daily products) with stair-climbing robots for the last mile delivery
· hotels — passengers may sleep in the vehicle and reach the destination the following day, reducing the need for motels or overnight accommodation along highways
Besides legislation to mitigate lawsuits involving autonomous vehicles, there may be knock on effects from the adoption of intelligent machines in transportation as the logistics industry gets disrupted, and products and services become more affordable. On the other side of the equation, large numbers of truckers, taxi-drivers, sailors, airline pilots may lose their jobs and will face an uncertain future as their competencies cannot be easily translated for use in other sectors.
Expected Time to Arrival (ETA): 3 to 7 years
In defence, the benefits are obvious as nations move towards the development of autonomous entities that can make their own decisions on the battle field. That said, the danger of handing over huge destructive power to machines cannot be understated. Technologically advanced nations will use their knowledge to their advantage with autonomous robots that can move in ‘swarms’ or individually, possibly equipped with low to mid-levels of destructive power (e.g. machine guns and not missiles). With only cost being the key issue in the production of these robots, defence chiefs will likely have armies of robots sitting in warehouses and barracks, as a deterrent to attacking forces. If needed, these robotic armies can stand guard at isolated outposts to stake out territories.
In the event of a war, how will human soldiers fare against robots? Will robots be so accurate given their ability to calculate trajectories and speed, to hit moving targets precisely that human soldiers will be at a huge disadvantage? Do we even want human soldiers on the battlefield?
Robots can be used in the following ways in defence and military:
1. conduct surveillance and gather intelligence
2. facilitate communication among networked machines to enhance the power of autonomous vehicles
3. plan attack and defence strategies to optimise resources and maximise impact with minimal losses
4. defend human soldiers e.g. as battering ram or defensive line to reduce direct enemy fire
5. carry equipment and food
6. carry out medical support and evacuate injured soldiers
7. fight alongside human soldiers
Besides autonomous robots, defence tools may eventually include:
· Nano-technology to control or affect internal living systems especially those of organisms and humans e.g. swarms of flying nano-bullets which can penetrate organisms through their orifices and target vital organs
· Cyber weapons to destroy or lock down critical financial, defence and communication systems
· Social media influencers (human or artificial), including the use of false news and deep fakes to stir unrest and cause distrust between governments and their people
How should military strategies be carried out now that there are a myriad of possible attack and defence formations that a nation can take? Where do humans figure in this new battlefield of tactics, technology and temptation instead of the traditional guns, guts and glory; going online instead of forming a line and clicking a mouse rather than firing a gun?
Given that in Singapore, national servicemen are trained in warfare at 18 years and are expected to serve in the reserve armed forces till they are 40 to 50 years old, are they able to adjust to new military tactics after they leave full-time national service? They will have to be retrained quickly. Teaching old soldiers new tricks and tactics will not be easy, not just with Singapore soldiers but also military in other countries. Who do they shoot first — the robot or the human soldier next to it? How do they defend themselves if they are attacked by swarm technology (i.e. small flying machines coordinated to move in clusters like bees)? How do they trust communication given that enemy forces may be able to infuse new messages through fake news and social media within societies and online? Fighting intelligent machines rather than human soldiers is a new ballgame and requires mindset changes and paradigm shifts. The new training needs to be carried out very soon, if we want to prepare our soldiers for the A2 technology in the next 5 to 10 years.
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg and bear greater scrutiny as intelligent machines take over critical roles in the armed forces, in order to protect human lives and scale up military power. It will be a dynamic space where changes will come from many different angles and unexpected fields of research. The thinking soldier will need AI to augment one’s decision-making process and automation to exponentially increase one’s attacking and defensive power.
ETA: 5 to 10 years
On a more uplifting note, there is huge potential to make lives better through A2 technology in healthcare. Automated dispensing machines are now in use at polytechnics on a trial basis with only one pharmacist on hand to check the accuracy of the medicine being dispensed and to check against the name of the patient. This automated dispensing technology improves productivity and reducing waiting time. Surgeries (where precision is critical) and daily care (e.g. lifting patients, providing medicine, checking vital signs) can be performed by machines with human carers present to provide the human touch or to make life and death decisions. More regular checks by machines (e.g. automated checking of stools daily at home) and pre-emptive checks especially for those with genetic disposition to develop certain ailments (e.g. Parkinson’s disease) can be carried out in a more targeted fashion.
With targeted and more routine checks in place, coupled with advancements in treatment and drug technology, people are expected to live longer, with a higher quality of life. More people will be retrofitted with replacement body parts (possibly made of stronger composite materials rather than human cells). Human cyborgs will become a reality — physically stronger and more intelligent than the average human being. Identifying what makes us humans will be critical (e.g. anything with a human brain?). A human identification tag may be needed to differentiate machines from humans.
We expect healthcare technology to impact:
· Homecare — moving healthcare into the home with domestic robots being ‘trained’ to take on healthcare roles
· Legislation where preventive interventions are put in place to reduce the likelihood of diseases spreading e.g. non-intrusive checks of one’s breath or stools
· Drone delivery of drugs where needed
· Remote monitoring of health and movements (e.g. using Kinetic Coach software)
ETA: 3 to 7 years
Case 4: Domestic Help and Companionship
Robot helpers will be able to perform domestic work, provide healthcare and companionship, especially for seniors living alone. Beyond meeting physical needs, robots can provide psychological and mental support to people by playing games, communicating and ‘empathising’ with people. Hence, if the robots are versatile enough, they will become the perfect subservient ‘slaves’ to people in taking care of every physical and emotional need.
Domestic help technology to impact:
· Self-reliance to cause people to over rely on machines for their every need, leading to a lack of ability to take care of oneself or others
· Physical movement or exercise
· Relationships between people e.g. family members since the notion of family is tied to meeting each other’s needs (e.g. children needing the providence and protection offered by parents)
· Food preparation and culinary arts — where robots can be ‘trained’ by culinary experts to prepare food based on the humans’ palate preferences
· Nanny to children, babies — carrying, pacifying babies and feeding babies and children
· Home education — support the instruction of children and adults so that humans continue to acquire knowledge in order to innovate
· Elder care — to watch over and serve the elderly at home
Considering that there are 253,800 domestic helpers (MOM, Dec 2018) in Singapore homes, this technology can be very impactful to the lives of Singapore residents and citizens. If maids can be replaced partially, it will mean more living space for the average family and possibly less potential for conflict. It would also mean that Singapore has sufficient space to allow for another 250,000 immigrants who can value add to the Singapore economy.
ETA: 8 to 10 years
Case 5: Education
Most educators content that learning and teaching is primarily a human endeavour and would be safe from the A2 economy. As learning involves the acquisition and application of new knowledge and competencies through problem-solving and innovation, there is societal impetus to ensure that learning continues for the good of humankind. Hence, education will and should continue for the foreseeable future, as long as humans are around. There will be life and skill coaches to students, facilitators to get learners to work and learn together in small groups, mentors to inculcate positive emotions and traits such as resilience and love into their mentees and educational psychologists to address learning issues and needs. These traditional functions of learning, approaches to instruction and learning support will remain.
What will change will be:
A) the content that students needs to acquire
· new topics (AI, Blockchain, nanotechnology, robotics)
B) the speed of change in content
· new content being introduced even before textbooks can be printed
C) the purpose of education
· beyond knowledge and skill acquisition, education is to develop the ‘being’ in the ‘human being’. This implies teaching people to know how to bond with others, being self-confident, self-disciplined, learning resilience, managing robots
· to build the ‘growth mindset’ and on top of that, the ‘expertise mindset’
· from the systems point of view, the educational system will have to identify personalities and predispositions for certain job roles early on for ‘hothousing’ of experts
D) focus on non-academic competencies (e.g. fine arts, sports, entertainment)
· for those who are less academically inclined, they can engage in non-academic activities which will be in greater demand due to human requirements for entertainment and leisure
E) the mode in which learning is conducted
· AI-enabled which implies each student may have an AI coach or a chatbot tutor that will administer personalised instruction to the student to complement the class teacher
· less bound to specific locations e.g. being able to engage in online discussions or go on field trips (by engaging robots at those locations (e.g. factories in India or offices in San Francisco) to move around) on a weekly basis
F) Seamless transition from pre-employment education to continuing education and training
· It makes sense to build a gradual transition for any human worker from full-time schooling to a hybrid of school-work (or internship) to full employment and this process of transition should become smoother out as enterprises work with schools to ensure a steady stream of human talents. Presumably, the early identification of these talents with directed efforts to equip them with the relevant capabilities at an early age could also smoothen this transition process.
· It may be mandated that workers be given a certain number of training days so that their skills do not become outdated.
· Personalised learning pathways with training recommendations will become commonplace.
Educational technology will experience a paradigm shift as the objectives of education will go beyond knowledge and skill acquisition to expertise building and innovation. Hence, traditional ways of learning, assessment, feedback and layering on of new learning will be proportionally reduced to allow new pedagogies that build expertise (e.g. metacognition, critical thinking, innovation) and resilience to be added on, so that learning for work remains one of the objectives in education.
Concerning preschool education, the government may protect the preschool educators’ role so that young children are exposed to human interactions more than to technology. This will be a challenge as national budgets get stretched but most governments will attempt to keep early childhood education as human-based as possible.
The need to implement some of these changes is now. However, bureaucratic delays coupled with the lack of suitable senior educators to effect these changes will push back the timeline. The risk is that the students within the transition period of 5 to 10 years may fall through the cracks when the A2 economy takes off and these young adults are unequipped for the new economy, resulting in poor career choices or inability to cope with technological advancements.
ETA: 5 to 10 years
We can envisage a future where drone or robot delivery of fresh produce based on requests from domestic robots followed by domestic robotic chefs schooled under culinary experts to cook pre-selected recipes. Home-cooked food by robots will be possible with human chefs supervising the quality of the food in the future. Alternatively, there is always food delivery by robots with the possibility of the robots cooking the final part of the meal just outside your door, to ensure freshness.
The other far-fetched but not impossible option of 3D-printed food may take slightly longer to achieve. Depending how the food landscape changes and if the food capsules for 3D printing are advanced enough, to create delectable dishes, it could disrupt the food industry. Imagine a 3D printed food sculpture that is delicious and attractive enough to be eaten. Yum!
ETA: 5 to 10 years
Case 7: Governments and Societies
As expounded on in the earlier segments of this paper, governments will need to reduce inequality in the society — both perceived and real. Platforms to drive the perception that the government is co-driven and the society is co-constructed together with the people will help to establish trust and ownership. It will be a difficult balancing act as governments will continue to maintain regulatory and legislative roles, pulling in segments of the society that are non-mainstream.
Notwithstanding, governments and large enterprises may wish to consider providing subsidies and credits (rather than Universal Basic Income) specifically for:
f) community service
The government may employ more community workers to promote self-help by volunteers, retirees and unemployed for the community and the environment so that there is meaningful work, with tangible outcomes. Rewarding community efforts may need to be a structured, semi-formalised pathway to channel energies of possibly disengaged workforce (e.g. those forced to retire early or are cognitive challenged) into meaningful work. More platforms and pathways will need to be created to allow people to contribute organically to the community. Examples of these include:
· Platforms for Training AI in Specific Expertise — to tap on retirees with many years of experience across all sectors
· Specific interest groups e.g. space exploration (to review the immense amounts of data collated from telescopes globally), security (to act as another pair of eyes to review live footage of security cameras at checkpoints), nature (to maintain and protect nature reserves through replanting), culture (to transmit cultural values and traditions to the younger generation using technology)
While nothing extraordinary, these measures may allay some of the fears of the community and continue to build trust across diverse segments of the society.
ETA: 3 to 10 years
These 7 scenarios that I have painted depict huge disruptions to how we will learn, work and play in the future. Obviously, we cannot validate or substantiate these scenarios but can only project these disruptions based on our understanding of current developments. In the event that 50% of these scenarios are realised, it is our hope that our government and people are prepared for them.
What Do These Scenarios Mean for Us?
Work, as we know it now, may disappear and re-emerge in a different form. The research (e.g. Steger, 2016) on the meaning and purposes of work is well-established. In essence, work enables:
psychological and mental growth
a) makes life meaningful and purposeful for people, establishing self-esteem and self-worth
b) gives a sense of control to people
c) keeps people preoccupied and focused on useful activities
d) contributes to overall growth and development of the worker and the human society in general
2) economic growth
e) provides a means to translate human activity to monetary returns
f) puts arbitrary values on the different types of work
g) promotes certain types of work over others based on the principle of supply and demand
3) social well-being
h) draws together collective efforts by groups of people to achieve a much bigger and higher goal
i) enables people with similar values, goals or desires to come together for a sustained period of time, thereby spurring innovation and development
With AI and automation, there is a strong likelihood that work, in its current form, will be performed less by humans and more by intelligent machines. In time to come, AI and automation will be in 2030s what word processors were in the 1990s, to enable work and human endeavour.
If the overall quantity of work reduces, resulting in less engaged time for humans, there are huge social and financial implications for societies and countries globally. Without work, the numerous benefits stated earlier will be compromised and people lacking meaning and purpose in life can resort to detrimental or destructive activities, either to self or others. Hence, besides being financially challenged, societies will have to grapple with more time but no money and more importantly, a lack of meaning in life. The void in the human psyche left behind by the relentless marching of new technologies can be overwhelmingly frightening and disempowering. This void has to be addressed quickly and effectively by governments globally.
· The first critical question is to discover what other types of work can humans perform which are more impactful or of a higher order if lower order (i.e. operational work) is performed by machines. Will there be tools which humans can use to achieve this higher order work? Will these tools be AI-based?
· The second critical question has to do with what defines work. By redefining work to include less recognised forms of work (e.g. musicians, artists, athletes and artisans) where human performance, for the purpose of increasing human well-being and pleasure, is involved, we can achieve similar purposes as typical work. In this expanded realm, the outcomes (e.g. enjoyment) from work may be less tangible and non-measurable. However, they still give workers a sense of self-worth and developing one’s ability. Very often, these activities require imagination, innovation and learning, stimulates new creativity and provides good entertainment and excitement. Obviously, these artisans and artists will argue what they do is sheer hard work and from the economic point of view, they are right. From the productivity perspective, the outcomes may be less than desirable if all economic products are purely for entertainment and do not advance innovation and indirectly, standards of living.
·The third critical question is who or what will initiate work assignments. While in traditional contexts, the market drives the demand, meaning the needs and wants of people and organisations determine the supply of services and products. Going forward, there may be an artificial stream of work initiation, to keep people engaged and happy. Straddling learning and work, posting work challenges would spur new thinking and re-learning of new competences. This is along the lines of education but beyond mere rote learning of facts and competencies, looking into new application and innovation. Solving challenge problems posed by governments, large enterprises and educational institutions may be one mode of work that could be generated to drive innovation and creativity. When augmented by AI and automation, underpinned by the makerspace platform, people can create to learn and work. With tangible deliverables and outcomes, some form of compensation could be issued for this form of work.
These questions force us to review how work will look like in the future and if we can extend the definition and purposes of work so that our people will continue to thrive and innovate, living their lives purposefully. As we become more open and accepting of different forms of work, the possible paths we can undertake to leverage on the A2 economy will increase.