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SINGAPORE: Robotics and Artificial intelligence (AI) are here to stay. 

AI applications are not just helping businesses become more efficient, they are more frequently visible in our everyday lives.

Consider virtual assistants such as Nanyang Technological University’s humanoid robot receptionist Nadine, and robotic instructors, known as RoboCoaches, that lead fitness classes for the elderly, demonstrate exercises, and offer encouragement here in Singapore. Not to mention the increasingly prevalent role of Alexa, Siri and Cortana in our lives.

READ: The rise of artificial intelligence and how lives will forever be changed, the Big Read.

READ: A while more before robots run our lives for us, a commentary.

As for businesses, AI is on the uptake, with research showing that 73 per cent of Singaporean organisations plan to make investments in AI over the next year.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS, HOT TOPIC

With AI occupying such a prominent place in Singapore’s business and social aspects of life, the recent announcement by Minster for Communications and Information S Iswaran on the appointment of a new council to advise the Singapore Government on the ethical use of AI and data is timely.

Not only is the council tasked with driving awareness of the benefits and challenges of AI, it will develop ethics standards and issue advisory guidelines and codes of practice for voluntary adoption by businesses.

Ethics and technology are an increasingly hot topic. Earlier this month, Stanford University, located in Silicon Valley, said it would introduce ethics into its technology and research programmes.

Meanwhile, MIT, recently appointed what it calls a “humanist chaplain” to help entrepreneurial students think through the ethical ramifications of their studies and work.

UNCHARTERED GROUND

It is good to see more people contemplating a host of issues, such as: Who is responsible for information and how is it managed? Are we prepared for the displacement of some old jobs and the creation of new jobs that require additional training?

How can technology and long-standing public institutions come together to make our new technology-driven world a place where we can enjoy all the benefits that AI provides, but within appropriate ethical boundaries? Who is responsible for the outcome of decisions made by AI?

More so than any other technology we’ve seen, AI is raising questions about “the unchartered”, or the unknown. Citizens and businesses are looking for answers to help navigate the new machine driven economy.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google, said the US tech giant would avoid any artificial

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google, said the US tech giant would avoid any artificial intelligence applications for weapons as he unveiled a set of principles for the technologies. (Photo: AFP/Elijah Nouvelage)

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This is where this initiative by the Singapore Government will play an important role in shaping the way AI is applied in the future, its impact on Singaporean citizens, and how both citizens and businesses approach it.

REDUNDANCY FEARS REMAIN, SO ENGAGEMENT NEEDED

One of the biggest fears of moving towards an AI-dominated world is the fear of redundancy – that our skills won’t be relevant anymore and we risk being displaced by something faster, more efficient, and smarter than us.

This applies to businesses as well and the risk of an industry or service becoming less relevant.  

The truth is technology innovation does lead to disruption and oftentimes displacement. However, the solution isn’t to stop evolving and innovating.

Rather, businesses, workers as well as the Government need to anticipate disruption and proactively build strategies to develop the skills and jobs that will be needed in the future. 

This is why we all need to be engaged in this discussion to ensure that as a society we’re moving towards embracing AI in an ethical manner, finding a place for everyone and making sure that that we focus on the right things to propel us forward as a society.

Google Home Mini2

The Google Home Mini responds to voice commands using artificial intelligence.

READ: Digital readiness blueprint needs to consider ‘invisible illiteracies’, a commentary.

A SHIFT, TECH IN EVERY INTERACTION

There’s a transformation at play – a shift beyond digital into an era where tech is built into every single interaction.

It’s important that executives understand the IT trends that are rapidly reshaping not just daily life but society as a whole, and that businesses – in every industry – reimagine what is possible.

This is where ethics come into play – providing guidelines and boundaries for the ways that industries will have to change in terms of accountability and responsibility for the decisions that machines make on our behalf.

While we can’t expect all the questions surrounding AI to be answered by the council itself, this new council is a step forward in bringing some clarity to at least the unanswered questions surrounding ethics and the ethical boundaries of how AI is likely to shape businesses going forward.  

World's top Go player Lee Sedol puts the first stone against Google's artificial intellig

World’s top Go player Lee Sedol puts the first stone against Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo in this handout picture provided by Google and released by Yonhap on March 12, 2016. REUTERS/Google/Yonhap

AN INGREDIENT IN A TRANSFORMING CITY

AI can be used as a transformational business tool and a very useful consumer service. It is changing how companies operate and people live.

But executives shouldn’t just look at it as a means to grow their businesses and people shouldn’t just think of it as a nifty extra.

We should look at AI as a tool that enhances human capabilities – making people better and happier at their jobs, prompting customers to be more satisfied with services and confident in a company’s brand. 

It should be an ingredient in creating a city that transforms the way of life of its citizens, boosting quality of life. Used ethically, we can all look forward to a new and exciting future with opportunities far beyond our imagination.

Gianfranco Casati is Group Chief Executive Growth Markets at Accenture. Teo Lay Lin is country managing director at Accenture Singapore.

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