At the Singapore FinTech Festival on 15 November 2023, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, President of the Republic of Singapore, engaged in a thought-provoking fireside chat, discussing the evolving landscape of technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and its implications for society and the economy.
Amidst a gathering of technology, finance, and policymaking experts and leaders, President Tharman shared insights on harnessing AI for societal betterment while mitigating its risks.
What did Singapore President Tharman speak about at the Singapore FinTech Festival Fireside Chat? Here’s an overview.
The Transformative Power of AI in Financial Services and Beyond
He emphasized the transformative impact of AI across various sectors, notably financial services. He highlighted that “financial services will be more impacted or more quickly impacted than other sectors, but this is going to be economy-wide and society-wide.” Reflecting on the rapid adoption of new technologies, he mentioned, “ChatGPT got 100 million users within two months,” underscoring the unprecedented speed of technological acceptance and integration in modern society.
Replacing human tasks and enabling humans at the same time
The president acknowledged the dual nature of AI as both a promising tool and a potential source of significant challenges.
“If I have to guess, I would say AI is going to be faster than previous technologies in replacing human tasks and enabling humans at the same time,” he said. There will be not dramatic change within three or four years, but hey said that in 10 to 15 years, this technological revolution is going to have a profound effect on the workforce.
He highlighted three points: first, new technology is going to uplift human potential in general; second, it’s going to have very different distributional consequences from the past; and three, it might upend the traditional hierarchy of jobs. “What you regard as a better job – and a job that deserves better pay – might change in the years to come.”
Navigating the Risks and Ethical Considerations of AI
President Tharman stressed the importance of ethical considerations and regulations in the application of AI, especially in sensitive areas such as healthcare and national security. He cautioned, “On matters of life and death, you do need human judgment, human decision-making.” He also touched on the role of AI in financial services, emphasizing the need for human involvement and ethical guidelines when dealing with critical matters like a person’s life savings.
The Bletchley Declaration and International Collaboration on AI Safety
Reflecting on the Bletchley Declaration, where 28 governments agreed to collaborate on AI safety research, President Shanmugaratnam highlighted Singapore’s active role in these global efforts. He underscored the need for international cooperation to address the diverse risks posed by AI, including challenges to democracies, national security, and global security.
Reskilling and Upskilling
Speaking on the talent crunch and how workers can cope with the advent of new technologies, he said, “Some jobs are going to be much more affected than others.” He emphasized the importance of reskilling and using technology to make the workforce more productive. He also highlighted the need for collective organisation, including public-private-labour union coordination, to provide alternatives for workers displaced or affected by AI.
“You can’t just leave it to individual firms and individual workers. It does require collective organisation, to provide an alternative for that large band of workers who are doing cognitive work that might be replaced by AI, in virtually every sector. We’ve got to provide them alternatives – either doing the same job differently and better enabled by new tools, or moving on to other jobs. It’s a collective task and we need to think of ourselves as a social organisation to address this.”
Enabling People to Live Life Fully in Their Later Years
President Shanmugaratnam expressed optimism about the role of technology in assisting the ageing population. He mentioned that technology, including AI, “is going to be a huge enabler for people to live life fully in their later years.” He stressed the need for societies to become less ageist and make the most of an older population’s potential to contribute.
“We have to become a less ageist society. We’ve got to make the most of an older population, to enable them to keep contributing, and to retain dignity at work for as long as possible,” he said.
The Important Takeaway
In his final remarks on what he hopes visitors to the Singapore FinTech Festival will take away with them, he said that we should look for things that surprise us, which are the technological advances. But we should all keep in our minds the idea that we must be out to do good. To do good for either those who are still not included in financial services or do good for people who just start off with less than life and need an uplift.
The Singapore FinTech Festival 2023 is organised by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Elevandi, and Constellar, in partnership with The Association of Banks in Singapore.
For more info, visit www.fintechfestival.sg.
Main picture credit: Singapore FinTech Festival
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