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The paper tiger of Asia

If the recent news about reform in Indonesia and Vietnam is to be taken seriously, we Malaysian has a lot to worry about. Indonesia has recently voted to keep Pak Jokowi as the president of the country. As part of his reform agenda, he has outlined a plan to make Indonesia the fourth largest economic power by 2030. To achieve that, Pak Jokowi’s new ministerial line-up was far from ordinary. It was carefully curated, so much so that he envisioned the whole country to be transformed and aligned with the Industrial Revolution 4.0. The appointment of Gojek CEO as the Minister of Education was seen as a move to transform the education blueprint for the nation to be attuned to the needs of future needs.

Vietnam meanwhile has seen a surge of people enrolling in coding courses. It used to be that programming classes were undertaken by the young crowd. However, nowadays, people from all sort of level are realizing the future lies in IR4.0 and do not want to miss the boat, thus making them more interested to take up the programming class. That is one area where Vietnam is progressing, but other economic indicators have shown that Vietnam is progressing really well and might surpass our GDP by 2020.

Now, where does leave us? Malaysia used to be ahead during the first tenure of the current Prime Minister. His vision of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) was ahead of the time. It was meant to propel Malaysia from being the producer of commodities toward becoming a knowledge society. We have since deviated from that original vision. In one of the speaking engagement to university students in Kuala Lumpur, I had a chance to speak to Tengku Dr Mohd Azzman Sharifadeen, one of the original few that were involved in the setting up of the MSC. He said that MSC has seriously deviated from its original objective. Tun Mahathir envision MSC to be

“MSC is paramount to leapfrog (Malaysia) into the 21st century and to achieve Malaysia’s Vision 2020, the MSC was created to endeavour the best environment to harness the full potential of the multimedia without any artificial limits. MSC is a global testbed (hub), where the limits of the possible can be explored, and new ways of living, working and playing in the new area of the Information Age”

However, it is becoming more like a property game, where companies are taking advantage of the tax break from the program just to cut their cost here and there. There was not much innovation that coming out from MSC that has reached the popularity of global proportion.

We seem to strongly more interested in politic bickering. This has somewhat being done at the expense of our global standing. The news of politic and social standing seems to be dominating the headline, with less emphasis being given on how to make our economy strong. Almost every week, there will be some controversial news that was displayed to us, it makes me think that we are now sailing without the right captain. It was echoed strongly by Tan Sri Dr Lin See Yan in his weekend column in The Star recently. His elaborate analysis of digitalisation and its impact on us moving forward is really an eye-opening. Nonetheless, he was worried about how unprepared we are as a Malaysian on the impending changes in comparison to what our closest neighbours are doing is something is a bitter pill that we need to swallow.

There is no doubt moving toward IR4.0 is inevitable. The fact that our government has come with our Industry4WRD has shown our seriousness in making sure we are not lagging. Almost all verticals are championing the cause by announcing how their organizations will align themselves to the policy. Even at the recent MPC ‘s Annual Productivity and Innovation Conference in 2019, IR4.0 was given a special mention and those that participate and champion the idea were considered for IR4.0 awards. However, are we moving fast enough to ensure that we can fit into the future digital society or are we going to doom as predicted by Tan Sri Dr Lin See-Yan?

Surely, topics such as 5G/6G, big data, AI, ML, nanotech, blockchain and will dominate the future discussion. There has to be a concerted effort by various agencies in the country to ensure the rate of adoption is expedited. This would require us to address the people, process and technology components simultaneously.

The people part entails the need to prepare the population to be ready to embrace the IR4.0. Our education system would need to be transformed to produce generations of society that are the proponent of the technology. True enough that our higher institutions have to adopt a new strategy that is aligned to the market need, nonetheless, placing the priority squarely on that needs can still backfire. There has to be a holistic plan that addresses the needs of the nation; ie arts and science stream, but elements of IR4.0 need to be incorporated as part of the learning. We cannot ignore digital skills that future technologist needs to master to thrive. Some exposure on the subject such as digital marketing, big data analytics (Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Deep Learning) is very important. The proliferation of eLearning platform such as Coursera, Udemy and so on can also expedite the learning process, thus making sure we have enough talent to fill the gap that we currently have.

However, as more and more of our lives are being transformed into digital, the issues of the digital divide will remain a contentious issue. People are talking about how technology will replace the future workforce. Frey and Osborne predicted that 47% of the American workforce is at risk of being replaced by automation by the mid-2030s. The future technologist would need to balance between having pushed for automation and preserving the structure of our society, thus ensuring human can remains function like we are now. The government have to also realize as some of these functions fade away, the support system has to be enacted to preserve to order of the society. Technology can certainly replace some of the workforces, however, continuous reskilling can help to address the need for a new job that is being created by those new technologies.

At the same time, the move toward digital provides another opportunity (or threat?). Cybersecurity is gaining traction in term of importance. Cybersecurity culture would need to be inculcated from the beginning, thus ensuring the society that is nothing is secure. When it comes to technology, we always glorifying the positive effect of these technologies that we somehow overlook its negative effect. Issues such as biases which were amplified by AI, when models are being deployed without enough oversight is a scary thing. Deployment of facial recognition to monitor our day to day living is a real thing, as currently being practised in China. Fake news is everywhere. Having a clear understanding of this cybersecurity issue will help the society to be more aware and responsible while conducting their life digitally. The responsibility does not only have to be carried out by the individual. We have yet to see comprehensive laws that address the cybersecurity requirement being enacted in the parliament. Other countries are way ahead in this aspect. Singapore, for example, has come out with various masterplan that not only address the cybersecurity laws for the ordinary citizens but also hold those that managing the critical infrastructure for the nation to be responsible when providing services such as utilities, transportations, banking and so on. These critical infrastructures can be a target by the parties with malicious intent as the disruption can be a very big inconvenience to the economy.

Having the two aspects addressed may not be enough if the technology is not in place to support it. Basic access to the Internet has been listed by the UN as a right for the citizen of the country. We are progressing well in this aspect. However, there is still areas of improvement, especially when it comes to access to the Internet. While other countries have leapt and bound in term of speed, we are still lag. The case with the Korean government has shown that the speed of the Internet offered to have positive correlation toward the level of innovation within that country. There has to be more done to expedite the move toward higher bandwidth at a cheaper rate. The recent announcement by the government on NFCP really bode well, but the impact is yet to be seen. The transition toward 5G is also seen to be helping the adoption of IR4.0. As the trial is still on-going, nothing much can be expected in this space yet.

We used to be called the Tiger of Asia. However, recently someone connotates the phrase Paper Tiger of Asia. If we are not careful enough in charting our future, that phrase can be a reality. If we are to continue bickering and politicking, it won’t long before we dig ourselves deeper that it might be hard to pull ourselves out from that predicament.

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