Collaborate to harness full potential of disruptive technologies: Tharman

Collaborate to harness full potential of disruptive technologies: Tharman

All parties here should collaborate to harness the full potential that disruptive technologies may bring, so that economic restructuring can yield the highest levels of benefits for everyone, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the launch of an incubator on Thursday.

Speaking to invited guests at the opening of technology and consulting corporation IBM's Watson Centre at Marina Bay, Mr Tharman stressed that disruption is bound to happen in economies around the world, but Singapore should work hard in anticipating the challenges that disruption may bring.

"If you leave it to the market, it might eventually happen, but it may not happen in Singapore. It may happen somewhere else. But if we work together actively, we can make things happen here in Singapore. It will be for the better of everyone."

Innovation is a key thrust that the Committee on the Future Economy - a high-level panel tasked with charting the path ahead for Singapore's economy - is looking at.

But in encouraging innovation, disruption of current ways of doing things is to be expected. A recent survey of chief executives by The Business Times and Standard Chartered Bank showed that 83 per cent of respondents saw disruption as a "major phenomenon".

To Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, disruption has positive aspects, in that it can enhance development potential of workers and companies.

Taking the healthcare sector as an example, he said at the Thursday opening that data collected from patients electronically can be harnessed to make better sense of their conditions. But for a doctor to analyse this data quickly and efficiently is almost humanly impossible.

Thus, the healthcare sector is attempting to combine artificial intelligence with human capabilities to deliver better healthcare to patients.

"This augmented intelligence, that will deliver targeted, better quality healthcare for individuals, or deeply personalised healthcare. This is a huge opportunity, and we are only at the cusp of what is to come," he said.

Embracing disruptive technologies would mean that some jobs will be made redundant.

But how these technologies can enable and empower companies and workers would mean that they will emerge stronger and more resilient, said Mr Tharman.

Thus, all parties in Singapore should work together to ensure that the technology's potential can be fully harnessed.

Noting that IBM and Singapore have developed a "rich partnership", Mr Tharman said: "So let's focus on enabling these futures, even as we restructure, and work together to maximise our human potential."

The centre is underpinned by Watson, the name for IBM's cognitive computing capabilities. Through sensing, learning and experiencing information around it through different interfaces, it can enhance user experiences when deployed in situations such as providing medical advice to doctors or receiving hotel guests as a concierge.

The centre combines teams and technologies from IBM Garage and IBM Studios. The former is an outfit that accelerates the design, development and commercialisation of blockchain applications in Singapore, while the latter works on digital expertise and the practice of designing products, processes, services to come up with business solutions.

Some Singaporean companies and start-ups are already redesigning parts of their business operations through the centre. Singapore Airlines, for example, is working with IBM to design two mobile applications for their pilots, said Stefan Hirsch, the ASEAN leader of IBM Interactive Experience, a digital agency.

Due to be introduced in early 2017, one of them will focus on assisting pilots in flight preparation procedures, while the other will help pilots manage their work roster and training schedules.

"We're fortunate to have a platform (the Watson Centre) that is very open that partners and clients can make changes with," said Anthony Menezes, vice-president of IBM Cognitive Solutions in Asia-Pacific.

This article was first published on June 10, 2016.
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