Archive for the ‘Educational Technologies’ Category

How it can break big tech’s hold on A.I.

Sunday, October 21st, 2018
PAIRING artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain might be what you would expect from a scammer looking to make a quick buck in 2018.

The two concepts, after all, are two of the most buzzed about and least understood ideas in the tech universe.

The blockchain, the database design introduced by bitcoin, has lately been the most popular route for anyone looking to raise money for an idea that sounds too good to be true.

Despite how easy the combination is to mock, the idea of applying blockchain to AI is attracting a growing roster of serious entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, many of them with impressive academic credentials.

Dawn Song, a computer science professor at the University of California in the United States, and Ben Goertzel, the chief scientist at Hanson Robotics, have been among big names arguing that blockchain can be a crucial way to push back against some of the most worrying trends facing the field of AI.

Many AI experts are concerned that Facebook, Google and other big companies are hoarding talent in the field. The Internet giants also control the massive troves of online data that are necessary to train and refine the best machine learning programmes.

Song, Goertzel and other entrepreneurs believe blockchain can encourage a broader distribution of the data and algorithms that will determine the future development of AI.

The startups working towards this goal are applying blockchains in a number of ways. At the most basic level, just as blockchain allows money to be moved around without any bank or central authority in the middle, AI experts are hoping a blockchain can allow AI networks to access large stores of data without any big company in control of the data or the algorithms

Ben Goertzel, the chief scientist at Hanson Robotics, with the humanoid robot Sophia, an alternative to Amazon’s Alexa, in his office in Hong Kong. He wants Sophia to reach out to other AI providers if she cannot find answers to users’ questions. NYT PIC

Several startups are setting up blockchain-based marketplaces, where people can buy and sell data. Ocean Protocol, a project based in Berlin, Germany, is building the infrastructure so that anyone can set up a marketplace for any kind of data, with the users of data paying the sources with digital tokens.

Unlike Google and Facebook, which store the data they get from users, the marketplaces built on Ocean Protocol will not have the data themselves — they will just be places for people with data to meet, ensuring that no central player can access or exploit the data.

“Blockchains are incentive machines — you can get people to do stuff by paying them,” said Trent McConaghy, one of the founders of Ocean Protocol, who has been working in AI since the 1990s.

Ocean Protocol is working with several automakers to collect data from cars to create the AI of autonomous cars. All the automakers are expected to share data so none of them have a monopoly over it.

Another startup, Revel, will pay people to collect the data that companies are looking for, like pictures of taxis or recordings of a particular language. Users can let their phones and computers be used to process and categorise the images and sounds — all in exchange for digital tokens. Over a thousand people have already put their computers to work.

These sorts of marketplaces are only the outer layer of the blockchain-based systems that are being built to handle AI data.

One of the biggest concerns that people have about the data being collected by Google and Facebook is the access it gives these companies to the most private details of our lives.

Song is working on a block-chain, known as Oasis, that will use advanced techniques to secure the data being bought and sold, so that no one — not even the company using the data — will get a copy of it.

In the Oasis network, all data moving through the system will be locked into encrypted bundles. Researchers will be able to run the data through their machine learning algorithms — and prove that the calculations were done correctly — without actually seeing the underlying data.

Other startups are using blockchains to open access to the AI models themselves. Goertzel has created SingularityNET, a blockchain that will serve as a link among AI services around the world. If one AI module is unable to come up with an answer, it can consult with others and provide compensation if one of the other modules is able to get it right.


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Rise of the app-trepreneurs

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR: An online service that helps you plan your own funeral. An app that tracks debts your friends owe you. A platform to help clueless car owners choose parts.

These are just some examples of the unique apps and online services developed by Malaysian entrepreneurs today.

And their creative spark in catering to specific consumer needs is putting Malaysia on track to becoming a leader in developing digital apps in the region, says the National ICT (Information and Communica­tions Technology) Association of Malaysia or Pikom.

Pikom chairman Ganesh Kumar Bangah said it was becoming a trend for niche apps in Malaysia to be developed and more were expected to emerge in future.

“As they cater to new and smaller markets, it is only natural for such need-based niche apps to be crea­ted,” he told Sunday Star recently.

Ganesh said Malaysia had the right ingredients to take the lead in South-East Asia’s digital economy: a talented pool of entrepreneurs and a tech-savvy society.

Malaysia has one of the highest Internet penetrations in South-East Asia at 85.7% and mobile penetration at almost 140%, making it one of the fastest growing emerging e-commerce markets in the region.

“We are at the right stage.

“We are not too small like Singapore nor too diverse like Indonesia.

“That makes us a good testing ground to launch products across South-East Asia, where its digital economy is expected to grow from US$50bil (RM205.3bil) to US$250bil (RM1.03 trillion) over the next seven years.

“If you look at one of the biggest leaders in the digital economy today, it is Grab, which was started in Malaysia.

“So we are a good petri dish for launching apps and finding product market fits, and helping these businesses to grow internationally,” said Ganesh, who heads the association commanding 80% of the total ICT trade here.

Companies which assist start-ups, known as “accelerators”, have also noticed the growth of businesses serving unique needs.

“In the last few years, we have witnessed the emergence of more niche start-ups.

“This is a refreshing and positive change in the tide of the local ecosystem because it gives opportunities to bright entrepreneurs who did not fit previous trends,” said Code Army founder Zafrul Noordin.

He added that this situation was also a reflection of the unique demands and needs of Malaysian consumers which had evolved.

“We also cannot ignore the millennial market, which comprises a huge chunk of Malaysian consumers who prefer to use gadgets, apps, and online resources for their daily needs.

“It is hugely their collective demand for convenience at their fingertips that many of these niche apps and start-ups are formulated,” Zafrul said.

Recently, the Department of Statis­tics Malaysia projected that the e-commerce growth rate in Malaysia would almost double, from 10.6% in 2016 to 20.8% by 2020.

In the same line, Pikom had also predicted that the total ICT contribution to Malaysia’s gross domestic product would grow from RM164.9bil in 2016 to about RM177.7bil in 2017.

Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation chief executive officer Datuk Yasmin Mahmood said the nation’s merchants, SMEs, industries and consumers were forging ahead to digitalise Malaysia’s proud tradition as a global trading nation.

By Yuen Meikeng
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H-app-y to serve you

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Malaysian businesses are developing more unique apps and online services to serve our tech-savvy society. From customising sanitary pad packages to ordering goats online for religious ceremonies, these services may range from practical to quirky but they are always innovative.

THERE’S an app for almost everything these days and in Malaysia, it’s no exception.

Businesses are becoming more creative, making niche, specific services easily available to consumers with just a tap on the smartphone or computer.

Some of these unique start-ups were part of the Khazanah Nasional Entrepreneurship Outreach Programme, aimed to nurture talent via a series of bootcamps and accelerator programmes.

And they shine through the array of useful, fascinating and at times, quirky apps and services available in the market today.

One start-up developed an online service that supplies personalised sanitary pad packages for “that time of the month” – complete with goodies like cookies and chocolates to comfort women through the cycle.

Called PMS Club, the service allows users to customise their selection of pads, be it a combination of heavy-flow pads or lighter ones, to be delivered to their doorstep every month at a preferred date or frequency.

The package also comes with essential oils to keep period hormones in balance, bath and beauty products and tasty treats to curb cravings.

Founder and CEO Hazel Desmond says previously, she found herself and other friends encountering many awkward moments whispering to colleagues if they could spare an extra pad when their period came unexpectedly at work.

“I also recall sleeping in awkward positions to avoid staining the bed because I forgot to buy heavy night flow pads,” says Desmond, from Sarawak.

Many women also have to endure cramps and emotional stress associated with PMS.

This triggered Desmond to create a fun and effective solution and hence, PMS Club was born.

Through only word-of-mouth, they reached over 162 customers around Klang Valley after the service’s pre-launch in May.

An average woman goes through 444 period cycles in her lifetime, Desmond estimates.

“I believe it’s time to re-invent those cycles into a fun event to look forward to every month,” she says.

Dealing with a more sombre affair, a unique Malaysian app known as Bereev helps users plan their legacy and prepare for the only sure thing in life: death.

Through the service, users fill in guided forms to plan their retirement years, departure and even their funeral.

This will later help families carry out plans after the user’s death, according to their wishes.

The app also stores important documents like insurance policies and retirement benefits which family members will need access to.

On a more personal touch, the app even enables users to record audio or video messages to be sent to their surviving loved ones after their demise.

The story behind Bereev began when its founder and CEO Izumi Inoue, from Penang, lost her grandmother to pneumonia.

“Because it was the first death in the family, none of us knew what to do or where to find her documents. It was chaotic.

“A year later, my grandfather passed away. He was diagnosed with stage four cancer so he knew his time was limited. He spent his last months preparing us for his own departure,” she says.

When his time came, her family had the chance to properly grieve instead of worrying about his estate and the logistics.

“That’s when I realised planning and communicating can make such a huge difference,” adds Inoue, 26.

On the feature to leave messages to loved ones, the idea came from dealing with personal losses where Inoue didn’t get the chance to say proper goodbyes.

“My hope is that no matter how unexpected life can get, we’ll always get the chance to tell the people we love, how much we love them one last time.”

The service is only available on the web for now. Bereev is working with a few insurance companies to provide sponsored accounts to customers.

Another service that solves a problem is Grub Cycle, a platform that helps reduce food wastages by selling groceries nearing their expiry at cheaper prices.

CEO Redza Shahid Ridzuan says the app has grown since 2016 and today, they have about 20 partners including restaurants, food manufacturers and distributors which supply them with groceries.

“Since the start of Grub Cycle, we have saved more than 4,000kg of food from being thrown away.

“We have also helped customers save a total of over RM35,000 in daily expenses,” he says.

Common types of food for sale are vegetables, cereals, canned drinks, chocolates and cakes.

“In future, we want to penetrate the whole of Peninsular Malaysia. Currently, our reach is in Klang Valley, Penang and Johor Baru.

“We are also aiming to save up to 10,000kg in food wastage by the end of the year,” Redza says.

In another practical venture, three Kuala Lumpur boys saw an opportunity to help typical car owners wishing to save money from expensive car maintenance.

But due to a lack of knowledge, some often go to workshops that overcharge.

Cyrus Low Chee Ming, Lai Keong Heng and Alvin Kwan Chin Heng then started Carsuka, a website that sells automative parts at competitive prices.

“We make it easy for users by simply asking them to select their car’s brand, model and year.

“And voila, our system will recommend the parts or services which fit their vehicle and most importantly, the prices without any hidden costs,” says Low.

The business has grown and recorded a six-digit sales revenue so far this year.

“In the long run, we aspire to become the biggest online-to-offline car maintenance portal in South-East Asia,” he adds.

Some platforms bridge communication, such as Sync, an app that connects schools with parents, teachers and students, enabling real time messaging between contacts so that information is shared easily.

The app has received positive responses, especially from parents on how useful the app is in getting real-time updates direct from the school.

App founder Zharif Sharif shares that the service was started in 2012 to solve communication barriers in universities by digitalising traditional notice boards.

“We shifted our focus to schools in 2013,” he says.

Since April 2016, Sync has collaborated with the School Management Division under the Education Ministry to implement the service in schools nationwide.

“We have connected more than 7,000 schools with over 400,000 users.

“We have received feedback that more parents are involved in school activities thanks to the app,” Zharif says.

On a more nostalgic note, the good old days of jotting down debts into a little Buku 555 can now be relived in a modern way – with an app that digitalises the book and does even more.

The app, also named Buku 555, allows users to remind their borrowers about debts via Whatsapp messaging.

CEO Firdaus Putra, who co-founded the app with his friends Ariff Putera and Ahmad Rusydan, says he previously had trouble recording debts and sometimes would lose track.

After discovering his business partners also faced the same problem, they started building the Buku 555 app and launched it in March.

More than 60,000 users have downloaded the app, with over 1,000 users from Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia.

He says users love that there is a debt management app that understands locals.

“One user admitted he has been lending money to so many people that he has lost count of the exact amount. After gathering records, he realised he has lent over RM100,000,” Firdaus says.

The sad part of the story is, even after listing down the names of all the borrowers, he was still unable to collect the debts on time.

“This is why Buku 555 is going to enable the payment feature in the app soon,” Firdaus says.

By Yuen Meikeng
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Accelerating apps even further

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

WITH Malaysia’s vibrant digital landscape, users here are definitely ready for more online services and mobile apps.

Several “accelerators”, or companies that help, mentor and invest in start-ups have noticed the rise of such online businesses and its potential in the future.

WTF Accelerator co-founder Kashminder Singh says the company has witnessed very encouraging growth of start-ups over the past five years.

“As in other parts of the world, new businesses that leverage on new technologies have arisen.

“But I do think that after low hanging fruits have been addressed, Malaysian start-ups are now focusing on more niche ideas.

“In other words, they are solving problems that are unique to our times,” he explains.

One of the most interesting online services that the company has helped is The Aqiqah (, which solves the niche problem of sourcing for goats to be used for sacrificial animals at religious functions.

1337 Ventures Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Bikesh Lakhmichand concurs that the start-up scene in Malaysia has matured in the last few years.

“There has been a significant decline in ‘me-too’ ideas and hence, the rise of a unique take on certain solutions.

“Malaysia is definitely ready for more online services and apps.

“How many times do you see someone in a physical store checking prices of a product on an online marketplace to ensure they get the best deal?

“SMEs that have not figured out a digital solution for themselves would be losing out on this,” he says.

On his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Bikesh asks them to figure out important aspects first.

“Do you know who your customers are? More importantly do you know who would be your earliest adopter?

“What are their biggest pain points in the area you are trying to solve? What are the alternative solutions the customers are currently using that you are going up against?” he points out.

Code Army founder Zafrul Noordin says anyone looking to start their own business should keep three action points in mind.

“Firstly, learn to build the ‘right’ start-up team. Your people can either help you sail or make you sink.

“Secondly, study the market and figure out the best timing for your product or service offer to be released.

“And thirdly, don’t dive head first. Invest money and time to learn start-up skills before launching a start-up,” he advises.

Zafrul says there are noticeable segments of the Malaysian population who are driving demand for mobile apps and online products and services.

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Reinforcing the security chain

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018
Cyber criminals leverage advanced strategies and tools to steal data. REUTERS PIC

SECURITY in the cloud is a top concern for the modern enterprise. Fortunately, provided that organisations do their due diligence when evaluating security tools, storing data in the cloud can be even more secure than storing data on premises.

However, this does require deploying a variety of solutions for securing data at rest, securing data at access, securing mobile and unmanaged devices, defending against malware, detecting unsanctioned cloud apps (shadow IT), and more. Amidst this rampant adoption of security tools, organisations often forget to bolster the weakest link in their security chain, their users.

In Asean countries, enterprises’ rapidly expanding cloud footprints make them a prime target for cyber attacks. While Malaysia is ranked third globally in commitment to addressing cyber security issues, it is also ranked sixth in the region and 33rd globally in vulnerability to cyber attacks. Unfortunately, the country’s current circumstances do not match its admirable intentions.

Nevertheless, countries like Malaysia are striving to enhance their cybersecurity efforts. A report from AT Kearney states that Asean countries spend 0.06 per cent of their combined Gross Domestic Product (or US$1.9 billion [RM7.82 billion]) on cyber security on average.

In 2017, Malaysia invested 0.08 per cent, double the .04 per cent of its neighbours in the region. Additionally, while Malaysia currently employs 6,000 cyber security professionals, the nation is seeking to reach 10,000 by 2020.

According to another survey, 96 per cent of Malaysian enterprises are only in the early stages of security preparedness. While these companies recognise the importance of cyber security, most have only deployed basic tools like firewalls and anti-virus protections for on-premises and managed devices. Nearly half lack security intelligence and event management systems for monitoring and responding to various threats. Finally, despite the fact that the weakest link in enterprise security is the non-IT employee, only 31 per cent of Malaysian companies want their workers to take part in IT security training.

Cyber criminals are constantly growing in sophistication; they leverage an ever-growing number of advanced strategies and tools in order to steal data. As such, it is critical for enterprises to employ proactive cyber security that prevents breaches from happening in the first place.

While great steps are typically taken to secure data, relatively little thought is given to the behaviours of its users. This is likely due to an ingrained reliance upon static security tools that fail to adapt to situations in real time. Regardless, users make numerous decisions that place data at risk — some less obvious than others. In the search for total data protection, this dynamic human element cannot be ignored.

External sharing is one example of a risky user behaviour. Organisations need visibility and control over where their data goes in order to keep it safe. When users send files and information outside of the company, protecting it becomes very challenging. While employees may do this either maliciously or just carelessly, the result is the same — data is exposed to unauthorised parties. Somewhat similarly, this can occur through shadow IT when users store company data in unsanctioned cloud applications over which the enterprise has no visibility or control.

Next, many employees use unsecured public WiFi networks to perform their work remotely. While this may seem like a convenient method of accessing employers’ cloud applications, it is actually incredibly dangerous for the enterprise. A malicious party can monitor traffic on these networks in order to steal users’ credentials. The fact that many people reuse passwords across multiple personal and corporate accounts only serves to exacerbate the problem.

Users place data at risk through a variety of other ill-advised behaviours, as well. Unfortunately, traditional, static security solutions have a difficult time adapting to users’ actions and offering appropriate protections in real time.

In the modern cloud, automated security solutions are a must. Reactive tools that rely upon humans to analyse threats and initiate a response are incapable of protecting data in real time. The only way to ensure true automation is by using machine learning. When tools are powered by machine learning, they can protect data in a comprehensive fashion in the rapidly evolving, cloud-first world.

This next-gen approach can be particularly helpful when addressing threats that stem from compromised credentials and malicious or careless employees. User and entity behaviour analytics (UEBA) baseline users’ behaviours and perform real-time analyses to detect suspicious activities. Whether credentials are used by thieving outsiders or employees engaging in illicit behaviours, UEBA can detect threats and respond by enforcing step-up, multi-factor authentication before allowing data access.

Machine learning is helpful for defending against other threats, as well. For example, advanced anti-malware solutions can leverage machine learning to analyse the behaviours of files. In this way, they can detect and block unknown, zero-day malware; something beyond the scope of traditional, signature-based solutions that can only check for documented, known malware.

Even less conventional tools like shadow IT discovery are beginning to be endowed with machine learning. Historically, these solutions have relied upon lists generated by massive human teams that constantly categorise and evaluate the risks of new cloud applications.

However, this approach fails to keep pace with the perpetually growing number of new and updated apps. Because of this, leading cloud access security brokers (CASBs) are using machine learning to rank and categorise new applications automatically, enabling immediate detection of new cloud apps in use. In other words, organisations can uncover all of the locations that careless and conniving employees store corporate data.

To reduce the likelihood of data leakage and cyber attacks, organisations must identify everything that they need to protect, as well as the strategies that they can implement to do so. While training employees in best security practices is necessary, it is not sufficient for defending data in our high-speed business world.


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No internet for Malaysian teens from 12am to 6am daily?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018
The government is looking at emulating Japan and South Korea by preventing internet access for those under 17-years-old, between 12am and 6am. (File pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: The government is looking at emulating Japan and South Korea by preventing internet access for those under 17-years-old, between 12am and 6am.

Deputy Health Minister, Dr Lee Boon Chye, said the initiative was among the measures being studied by the government to curb teen addiction to online gaming and social media applications nationwide.

“The government is studying whether such a measure can be carried out here.

“There are also gaming providers which prevent users under-17 from accessing their games for a period of one to two hours.

“These are among the steps being studied to ensure that video game addition can be brought under control,” he said.

Dr Lee was responding to a question from Lukanisman Awang Sauni (GPS-PBB Sibuti) in the Dewan Rakyat on whether addiction to games and social media applications are categorised as mental problems.

The minister said, the country’s Health and Morbidity Studies last year showed that 34.9 per cent of Malaysian children between 13 and 17 show a prevalence towards internet addiction.

He said checks by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on internet usage trends last year showed that 80 per cent of the 24.1 million users use the internet for social media.

“Checks also showed that the average user spends about four hours online daily,” he said.

He said addiction to video games and social media applications could have a negative impact on individuals, apart from being habit-forming.

He said the latest updates from the World Health Organisaiton in its International Classification of Diseases (11th series) stated that video game addiction is listed as a mental health illness.

By Fairul Asmaini Mohd Pilus.

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Make Internet access affordable to all

Saturday, July 7th, 2018
Telecommunications companies must price Internet products and services affordably so that they are accessible to all.

WE live in a highly connected world so much so that we describe the world of the 21st century as a “global village”.

However, not everybody is connected. Some cannot afford the high fees charged by telecommunications companies.

Pricing people out of the Internet is not right. It is not a corporate practice that is consistent with the Internet of Things age. Some argue that the right to Internet access is a human right. I would not go that far, but what I will say though is that the Internet must be accessible to all, not just to some groups.

Some companies claim that they practise corporate social responsibility, but when it comes to providing Internet access, they impose high fees to make big profits. This is not right. It is even unjust. Companies operate in an environment of people, and if the people around them cannot afford to buy the companies’ products and services, then they are being irresponsible

We understand the need for companies to make profits. Otherwise, they can’t stay afloat. What we do not understand is the companies’ desire to make huge profits. This is corporate greed. We all remember the rise and fall of Enron Corporation, the American energy company that was too good for itself.

Closer to home, I think many companies do not understand the concept of CSR. Many think CSR means a philanthropy programme through which good causes are funded. This is a misconception.

On the contrary, being a socially responsible company means doing everything from start to finish responsibly. Let me quote the Financial Times for a learned version of it: “Corporate social responsibility is a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders”. This means companies must be aware of “the impact of their business on the rest of society, including their own stakeholders and the environment”.

So, CSR is not about giving handouts during Hari Raya Aidilfitri or other festivities. Neither is it about giving seasonal Internet access packages at discounted rates for selected groups.

Some economists believe that we should let the “market” decide this. A leading example of this is the late Milton Friedman, who infamously said the only social responsibility of a company was to make profits. He is long gone, but his ideas are still being adopted by companies that miss the point of being responsible, just like Friedman missed it.

Because some companies misbehave, we need the active involvement of the government to enforce rules to moderate the behaviours of such corporations. Like errant human beings, who require the government to moderate their behaviours to make life bearable, we need the government to ensure corporate players operate responsibly.

By Norazian Mohamad

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Long and short of digital revolution

Friday, June 29th, 2018
Digitalisation requires devising smart policies to maximise the benefits. FILE PIc.

DIGITAL platforms are recasting the relationships between customers, workers and employers as the silicon chip’s reach permeates almost everything we do — from buying groceries online to finding a partner on a dating website.

As computing power improves dramatically, and more and more people around the world participate in the digital economy, we should think carefully about how to devise policies that will allow us to fully exploit the digital revolution’s benefits while minimising job dislocation.

This digital transformation results from what economists who study scientific progress and technical change call a general-purpose technology — that is, one that has the power to continually transform itself, progressively branching out and boosting productivity across all sectors and industries.

Such transformations are rare. Only three previous technologies earned this distinction: the steam engine, the electricity generator, and the printing press. These changes bring enormous long-term benefits.

The steam engine, originally designed to pump water out of mines, gave rise to railroads and industry through the application of mechanical power. Benefits accrued as farmers and merchants delivered their goods from the interior of a country to the coasts, facilitating trade.

By their very nature, general-purpose technological revolutions are also highly disruptive. The Luddites of the early 19th century resisted and tried to destroy machines that rendered their weaving skills obsolete, even though the machines ushered in new skills and jobs. Such disruption occurs precisely because the new technology is so flexible and pervasive.

Consequently, many benefits come not simply from adopting the technology, but from adapting to the technology. The advent of electricity generation enabled power to be delivered precisely when and where needed, vastly improving manufacturing efficiency and paving the way for the modern production line. In the same vein, Uber is a taxi company using digital technology to deliver a better service.

An important component of a disruptive technology is that it must first be widely adopted before society adapts to it. Electricity delivery depended on generators. The current technological revolution depends on computers, the technical backbone of the Internet, search engines, and digital platforms.

Because of the lags involved in adapting to new processes, such as replacing traditional printing with online publishing, it takes time before output growth accelerates. In the early stages of such revolutions, more and more resources are devoted to innovation and reorganisation whose benefits are realised only much later.

Perhaps it is no wonder that the digital revolution doesn’t show up in the productivity statistics quite yet — after all, the personal computer emerged only about 40 years ago.

But make no mistake — the digital revolution is well under way. In addition to transforming jobs and skills, it is also overhauling industries such as retailing and publishing and perhaps — in the not-too-distant future — trucking and banking.

Looking forward, we may see even more disruption from breakthroughs in quantum computing, which would facilitate calculations that are beyond the capabilities of traditional computers. While enabling exciting new products, these computers could undo even some new technologies.

Digitalisation will also transform people’s jobs. The jobs of up to one-third of the US workforce, or about 50 million people, could be transformed by 2020, according to a report published last year by the McKinsey Global Institute.

The study also estimates that about half of all paid activities could be automated using existing robotics and artificial and machine learning technologies. For example, computers are learning not just to drive taxis but also to check for signs of cancer, a task currently performed by relatively well-paid radiologists.

While views vary, it is clear that there will be major potential job losses and transformations across all sectors and salary levels, including groups previously considered safe from automation.

But economic disruption and uncertainty can fuel social anxiety about the future, with political consequences. Current fears about job automation parallel John Maynard Keynes’s worries in 1930 about increasing technological unemployment. We know, of course, that humanity eventually adapted to using steam power and electricity, and chances are we will do so again with the digital revolution

The answer lies not in denial but in devising smart policies that maximise the benefits of the new technology while minimising the inevitable short-term disruptions. The key is to focus on policies that respond to the organisational changes driven by the digital revolution.

Electrification of US industry in the early 20th century benefited from a flexible educational system that gave people entering the labour force the skills needed to switch from farm work as well as training opportunities for existing workers to develop new skills.

In the same way, education and training should give today’s workers the wherewithal to thrive in a new economy in which repetitive cognitive tasks — from driving a truck to analysing a medical scan — are replaced by new skills such as web engineering and protecting cyber security. More generally, future jobs will probably emphasise human empathy and originality: the professionals deemed least likely to become obsolete include nursery school teachers, clergy and artists.

One clear difference between the digital revolution and the steam and electricity revolutions is the speed at which the technology is diffused across countries. While Germany and the United Kingdom followed the US take-up of electricity relatively quickly, the pace of diffusion across the globe was relatively slow

The revolution will clearly affect economies that are financial hubs, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, differently than, for example, specialised oil producers such as Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Equally, the response to automated production technologies will reflect possibly different societal views on employment protection.

Where preferences diverge, international cooperation will likely involve swapping experiences of which policies work best. Similar considerations apply to the policy response to rising inequality, which will probably continue to accompany the gradual discovery of the best way to organise firms around the new technology.

Education and competition policy will also need to be
adapted. Schools and universities should provide coming
generations with the skills they need to work in the emerging economy. But societies also will need to put a premium on retraining workers whose skills have been degraded.

Similarly, the reorganisation of production puts new strains on competition policy to ensure that new techniques do not become the province of a few firms that come first in a winner-take-all lottery.

In a sign that this is what is already happening, Oxfam International recently reported that eight individuals held more assets than the poorest 3.6 billion combined.

Given the global reach of digital technology, and the risk of a race to the bottom, there is a need for policy cooperation similar to that of global financial markets and sea and air traffic.

In the digital arena, such cooperation could include regulating the treatment of personal data, which is hard to oversee in a country-specific way, given the international nature of the Internet, as well as intangible assets, whose amorphous nature and location can complicate the taxation of digital companies.


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Simplicity matters in life, and financial reporting

Thursday, June 28th, 2018
New and revised financial reporting standards are rolled out to reflect the new realities of the economy.

THE digital economy creates an efficient financial governance medium and our financial reporting should reflect that.

This should cover the entire reporting process, from data capture through analysis to data presentation.

New and revised standards are rolled out to reflect the new and complex realities of the economy and the business world.

Examples are the financial reporting standards of Malaysian Financial Reporting Standards (MFRS) 9: Financial Instruments (effective Jan 1 this year), MFRS 15: Revenue from Contracts with Customers (effective Jan 1 this year) and MFRS 16: Leases
(to take effect on Jan 1 next year)

However, to ensure better governance, measures need to be taken to carry out the above standards.

The Malaysian Institute of Accountants said a focus on organisations’ core businesses is needed to ensure that systems and processes are in place.

Secondly, stakeholders in organisations should be committed to the change process of the business transformation.

Knowledge, skills and attitudes of stakeholders should be matched with organisations’ vision and mission.

Thirdly, embracing information technology as much as possible will expedite the implementation process.

Finally, accountants must improve their financial reporting skills to give effect to the intent of the new standards of financial reporting.

Users’ feedback that MFRS is complex and difficult to be understood must be dealt with.

It is more important to provide clear, simple, useful but actionable financial reporting information for decisions to be made.

By Assoc Prof Dr Saunah Zainon.

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Visualise achieving your goals

Sunday, June 24th, 2018
Pupils engaging in an outdoor activity. Students who use visualisation techniques will plant the seeds of success in their lives. FILE PIC

TECHNOLOGY has made teaching and learning complex and holistic. Changes in content and pedagogy are also happening quickly.

The success rate in most developing nations is based on how well students perform in their examinations or how clever they have become.

In many schools and higher learning institutions, we are missing the integration of people, the joys of studying and the purpose of life. It has become a mechanical world.

Preschool children are forced to spend hours studying to get a head start, and are burnt out by the time they are in secondary school.

Some take their own lives because they cannot keep up with their expectations, let alone parental and societal ones, to excel in their studies.

To ensure that the digital education era does not eliminate the humanising of education, we should pay heed to Moral Education.

This is a subject that develops students into individuals with integrity and noble values.

They contribute to society’s unity, prosperity and wellbeing.

Through innovative pedagogies in Moral Education, such as visualisation, students can get into self-reflection and deep learning. These allow them to be in a better position to make decisions when faced with moral dilemmas.

When I was growing up in a multicultural environment, I always visualised people as equals, without even thinking about colour and creed. It is becoming a reality now.

Visualisation techniques have been used by many to see their desired outcomes.

The practice has given world leaders what seem like super-powers, helping them create their dream lives by accomplishing one goal at a time with focus and confidence.

The technique involves envisioning yourself achieving your goal. To do this, a detailed mental image of the desired outcome using your senses is created.

For example, if your goal is to stay healthy, visualise yourself eating only healthy food.

When students have the space to become complete humans, then no digital era will ever take away their pride and dignity.

The crucial question here is, are educators, parents and society providing this platform for students?

By Dr Vishalache Balakrishnan.

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