Who Really Wants Automation?

In this time of disruption and enhanced automation, we are facing opportunities, and an astounding array of challenges. What will Artificial Intelligence and autonomous robotics do for, or to, us?We know computers are helpful in our lives. But how much do we want them to replace humans?

The world’s population is growing, which logically means we should be creating more jobs. But computers are taking matters down another road.

We face the prospect of a machine doing what people used to do. People are making these machines smarter, nimbler, more versatile, and they don’t need a tea break and don’t fall sick.

IBM Watson recently demonstrated how it can crunch thousands of pages of data and weigh different variables to suggest the best possible cancer treatments. Self-driving cars promise to take the fun out of driving but offer the hope of mobility to those who would not otherwise be able to get around. Nutonomy has been road testing its system and a proposed test of autonomous buses could begin as early as 2018.

In this age of technological revolution, how many jobs will be lost?

Do we want automation? How will it affect us?

Balancing Technology And Human Touch

Charles Tan, General Manager, Corporate Sales/IT, Global Travel (www.globaltravel.com.sg)

Today, anyone with a smartphone or laptop thinks he is a travel expert, via the web or on mobile applications. From search to select and even to payment, technology can provide an all-in-one service; the logarithms and robotics behind the programs cut the time between search and decision processes.

In the corporate setting, we see an increasing demand for Online Booking Tools (OBTs), from our clients, and also the need for Big Data. Everything here hints to the fact everyone wants to be in absolute control. The reality actually does not live up to the hype. OBTs can save time and money for corporations under ideal conditions (but you still need to read the fine print), and Big Data is good to have, but whose responsibility is it to interpret the data? Ultimately, in a pinch, or otherwise, corporates still rely on their trusted travel consultant.

Limitations to the current technology aside, the travel industry has made huge gains from the development of AI. Our productivity has increased significantly and savings gained by the following: the demise of the paper ticket has contributed to cost savings ranging from less paper delivery costs and time savings.

We have learnt to embrace technology due to the ever-growing demands for greater speed, accuracy and information from our clients.

The bottom-line is that while technology helps us to be competitive in a fast and furious industry, the edge may very well lie with the company with the most experienced and knowledgeable travel professional whose simpatico with the client is for now irreplacable.

Changing Times

Daren Tan, Managing Partner (Tech and Innovation Fund), Golden Equator Capital

Intelligence in software algorithms is elevating decision-making to a whole new level of precision. It is creating real world efficiencies, bringing costs down whilst achieving high levels of accuracy and certainty in various fields.

Unfortunately, it can be worrying to see the acceleration of work-displacing software create serious gaps and policy challenges in income and wealth disparities in AI-driven economies. For example, China has over 100 million people working in factory lines/manufacturing jobs. The displacement of millions of workers, and how these would subsequently impact consumption-driven economies on a significant scale, is the real issue at hand.

The implications are larger than just factory workers losing their seats to AI robots and smart process-driven algorithms.

Even Wall Street and financial hubs of the world are being disrupted. Cloud-based software technologies, such as blockchain and proprietary black-box algorithmic trading systems are replacing and dictating the rationale behind the execution of trades, all of which are key domain expertise of professional investment trade managers.

In this scenario, technology and its evolving intelligence will motivate new types of work and create new jobs.

The revolution in technology is meant to liberate us from inefficiencies, allowing us to achieve an ideal economic balance in deciding how we apply AI, automation and robotics to the workforce and build smarter economies.

A Legal Argument

Adrian Tan, Partner, Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC (www.morganlewis.com)

A large part of a lawyer’s time is spent on research.  The lawyer has to comb through past cases and legal textbooks to locate legal precedents, arguments and opinions that are relevant to his own case.  In the past, juniors did this in libraries, copying out past decisions by hand. Gradually, we moved to photocopying, and now we are at the stage where lawyers’ research is largely online.

It is a short step from here to the next level — programs and algorithms written to help lawyers with their research.

What we will actually appreciate are programs that can help us argue cases in open court, deal with difficult opponents and calm down stressed-out clients!

Unfortunately, we are a long way from that. Some lawyers believe that the practice of law will move away from technical legal analysis towards client management and advocacy.

Size Matters in Automation

Koh Yeow Koon, Managing Director, Seng Choon Farm Pte Ltd (www.sengchoonfarm.com)

In recent years, adoption of automation to reduce labour reliance has become more urgent in Singapore due to the labour policy changes such as wage recommendations, foreign labour force restrictions and increasing levies. An ageing workforce also reinforces the need to make working conditions easier for our staff.

Automation is about doing more things faster and in a less strenuous way.

But it can also be a double-edged sword. Automation allows farms to expand exponentially, to accommodate millions of birds, and this has seen an increase in the minimum farm size required to remain viable. This forces us to follow suit to remain competitive in the market.

We have to expand to survive because the best equipment is made to harness large economies of scale. Unfortunately, expansion is not easy in Singapore (as opposed to farms overseas).

For now, we have to contend with low-hanging fruit, but automating how we work at the farm is probably the only way forward for us, and many others in this industry.

The Way Forward 

Chua Sher Lin, Chief Financial Officer, Koufu (www.koufu.com.sg)

Automation is becoming a reality and it definitely cannot be avoided.

The most valuable part of a human body is above the shoulder (the brain) and what automation can do is to assist humans with physical tasks. Yes, it will replace some job functions that are less value added. However, these are also jobs which people tend to avoid due to modernisation and a more educated workforce. These changes do mean that new innovations will keep evolving and disruption of current industries is guaranteed.

We have to learn to adapt and adopt new skill sets to ensure we remain relevant to society and industry.

In the F&B industry, automation will help us to manage the current labour shortage issues that we are facing and drive up productivity. Recently, we piloted the use of a tray return robot at one of our outlets to both encourage customers to do their own tray return as well as to reduce the workload of our cleaners. We are targeting to implement the system at a few more outlets in the coming months.

Opening New Doors

Er. Edwin Khew Teck Fook, President, The Institution of Engineers Singapore (www.ies.org.sg)

We should embrace automation and look at the many positives it will bring.

Intelligent systems and robots will relieve people from the most menial, repetitive and procedural of tasks, affording us more time to concentrate on thinking, creating and inventing. This will lead to more innovative solutions that will in turn realise higher standards of living and create more jobs.

However, this evolving trend will magnify the need for workers in the new millennium to upskill and reskill — to be able to embrace and integrate technologies for the future survival of Singapore and its economy.

It will open up a myriad of exciting opportunities in engineering and technologies, whereby young, bright talents will be able to define the world in their own ways.

No Travel Robots

Nicholas Lim, Trafalgar, President, Asia (www.trafalgar.com)

Automation is always good if it is to the benefit of the user.

In the past decade, technology has played a big part in how we transact and research travel online. However, one thing remains constant with or without technology — the consumption of the travel experience when the traveller is at the destination.

Online booking websites and businesses facilitate the transaction but they cannot deliver the actual experience. Only the destination and its people, cuisine, culture and history can deliver that.

We must be clear of this, as many travel experts seem to have forgotten the most important objective of the customer is a good travel experience. Digital services can simplify and hasten the process, but human expertise will still be needed to create the best travel experiences.

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