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A discussion on technological disruption in government

A discussion on technological disruption in government, business, healthcare, education

OpenGov attended a fascinating panel discussion on how
technology is going to impact different spheres of lives, societies and nations,
in Singapore and beyond at the launch of a new book, titled  Living
Digital 2040: Future of Work, Education, and Healthcare
on February
8.

Published
by World Scientific and authored by experts including Mr Poon King Wang
(Director, Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, Singapore University of Technology and Design or SUTD), Dr Hyowon Lee
(Assistant Professor, Information Systems Technology and Design, SUTD), Dr Lim
Wee Kiat (Research Fellow, Asian Business Case Centre, NTU), Dr Mohan Rajesh
Elara (Assistant Professor, Engineering Product Development, SUTD), and 4
others, the book explores practical possibilities that we can pursue and how
our collective capacity for innovation and collaboration can tackle the
disruptive forces, and transform our lives for the better.

In his opening remarks at the launch, Mr Ng Chee Khern, Permanent
Secretary (Smart Nation and Digital Government), Prime Minister's Office, lauded
the authors’ approach of talking to people on the ground, instead of just
discussing high-level concepts. He also praised the practical advice offered by the book for
living meaningful, fulfilled lives in the midst of technological disruption.

However, he also cautioned about potential dangers posed by technology. He
said that disruption can be understandably scary for the average citizen. The many,
many choices and paths available to people, might end up overwhelming them,
instead of improving their lives.

Mr Ng Chee Khern, Permanent Secretary (Smart Nation and Digital Government), Prime Minister's Office/ Credit: World Scientific (from https://www.facebook.com/wspcsg/)

In another paradox of digital technology, our highly connected world could
become increasingly fragmented, due to the extreme customisation and personalisation
enabled by technology. Fake news is the most visible manifestation of this, but
it is not the only one.

Finally, loss
of jobs to technology could hollow out the middle class, leaving behind a simultaneous
race to the bottom and the top for different segments of society.

Permanent
Secretary Ng said that it is the government’s job to ameliorate these adverse
impacts, to influence the development of technology in a way which is good for
the individual and good for society.

Subsequently,
there was a panel discussion moderated by Prof Chan Heng Chee, Chairman of the
Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities. The panelists included Mr Ng; Dr Lee
Chien Earn, CEO Changi General Hospital; Mr Charles Ormiston, Partner, Bain and
Company, Southeast Asia and two of the authors, Mr Poon and Dr Lim.

Prof Chan asked
the panelists to talk about the most important changes technology would bring
in their domain of work.

Presenting
the government perspective, Mr Ng said that technology can definitely be used to
run cities and countries much better and much more efficiently. This is already
happening.

Citing the
examples of tech giants, Google and Facebook which are able to understand us
and cater to our needs and likes even if you try to be anonymous, he said that governments
will also be able to know more about their citizens.

The relationship
between citizens and governments could go either way. It could be a scenario where
government plays a smaller, more facilitative role, doing things with citizens,
rather than to them. Or governments could obtain more levers to control things.

A mere 5-6 years
ago, during the Arab Spring, technology was hailed as force for good, for
freedom. In 2017, headlines are talking digital technology damaging democracy
and freedom.

The final outcome
will depend on policy choices, and the citizenry can influence those policy
choices through participation in how the government makes decisions.

The second
big area of impact Mr Ng highlighted is the relationship between countries. He
said that it will be critical for Singapore to ensure that in terms of infrastructure,
regulatory regimes, cross-border agreements, Singapore continues to be a
developed, digitalised nation, so that it can remain competitive and continues
to receive international investment flows.

Technology
has altered the drivers of competitiveness for businesses. The rule used to be
that you become the largest player and leverage your scale. Now scale is a
burden. It is no longer the largest companies, but the companies which innovate
the fastest, thrive best.

Mr Ormiston
mentioned Nokia which fell from the position of the indisputable market leader
to that of non-relevance in the mobile phone market, within an astonishingly
short period of 4-5 years.

Secondly, companies
can no longer control the entire value chain. They have to get comfortable working
in an ecosystem where they do not have full control. To do so successfully,
they have to adopt agile working methodologies. Mr. Ormiston used the example
of the consultancy industry itself, which he is a part of. Previously, the
consultants would make 6-month plans. Now they have to demonstrate results on a
week-to-week basis and work more collaboratively with clients.

The third major
disruption noted by Mr Ormiston was the value of data, both internal and
external. And the boundaries of what is good or bad, or acceptable/
unacceptable are changing. Imagine a store-based retailer using cameras to
track everything their customers do and using analytics to understand their
customers’ behavior. It might appear to be a startling proposal. But that is
exactly what the online retailers do!

Mr Ormiston
went on to talk about a Chinese company which is using social media for credit
scoring. They can tell if a person is a drug addict from the data. So, it is no
longer about internally generated data only. Companies need to tap on data from
multiple sources.

In the area
of healthcare, data can help create archetypes of patients, enabling better personalisation
of services and service delivery to under-served groups. For instance, some
people come in for screening all the time, while others who might be in urgent
need of health screening rarely visit the hospital. Technology and data can
help identify such people, so that they can be provided with the required care.

This shift
from quality to value was one of the transformative effects of technology
highlighted by Dr Lee.

He also
talked about a shift of healthcare from hospital to community. Using the
analogy of a F1 race, he said that a hospital should be viewed as pitstop in the
life’s journey and the objective of healthcare should be to keep this pitstop
as precise, painless and brief as possible. And the care has to continue beyond
the hospital into the community.

To ensure
that care continues into the community, it must be recognised the care team
includes healthcare professionals, and also the patient’s family. And the care
team can be empowered by technology.

Can information
be made available to them when they need it? Now information is mostly provided
through push mechanisms, like the prescriptions and instructions when a patient
is discharged. Technology can enable the delivery of this information through a
‘pull’ mechanism.

Technology
can also help in dealing with the constraints of an ageing workforce. It is
important to keep in mind that it is not just the patients who are ageing, the caregivers
are also ageing. In this scenario, robotics can help take care of menial tasks,
so that nurses can work longer and better.

Technology
can also help in matching demand and supply in the healthcare area. For
instance, it can match care-seekers with nurses and therapists.

In the
education arena, Mr Poon said that the focus in most education systems in on
helping students land that great first job. But what can universities offer to
students which they cannot get outside now? That should be the focus at an
institutional level. At an individual level, digital technology can enable educators
to help each child find something they truly care about and support them in excelling
in the area.  

Dr Lim advocated
for the STEAM approach to education, adding Arts (humanities and social
sciences) to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics of the popular
STEM approach. Because there is more to technology than the technical aspects. We
need new ways of thinking to understand the impact of artificial intelligence,
genetics, robotics on our lives.  

For instance,
consider the trolley dilemma, a thought experiment in ethics. A trolley is
hurtling down railway tracks, heading towards five people, who are unable to move
or are oblivious to the danger. You see a lever you can pull to divert the
trolley onto a different track where it will hit one person. Or a variant of
the problem where you can push a fat man onto the tracks to stop the trolley. Philosophers
have pondered over the morality of the options for decades.

How is this
related to technology?

For autonomous
vehicles, this is a very real dilemma. During a potential crash scenario
the algorithms have to choose between different courses of action, with no perfect
solution available where no one is harmed.

We have to
consider these complex questions with no easy answers, if we are to truly
understand and deal with the impact of technological disruptions.