IF there is a movie entitled 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) it will no doubt be a box office success judging from the interest shown by Malaysians from all walks of life to it especially academics and professionals.
Most seem intrigued in the way it was promoted as the next "big" thing without which one would be left behind, if not made totally redundant. The last point seems most persuasive because the threat of being left behind, or made redundant, is daunting.
This, however, is not exactly new because every so-called industrial revolution posed the same dilemma since the 18th century. Yet the world continues to "function", and some would even claim that it is now better than what it used to be, thanks to the "disruptions".
The frenzy is somewhat reminiscent of the turn of the millennium scare attributed to the Y2K bug. It was perceived as another technology "threat" forewarned to create global upheavals if not properly handled. It arguably was part of the 3rd Industrial Revolution scare although no one touted it that way.
Still many were left feeling vulnerable not knowing exactly what to do. Fortunately, when the new millennium came, it was business as usual, an anti-climax of sorts. So here we are today staring at the 4IR not knowing what to do yet again. Many under the circumstances choose to embrace it. As they say: if you can't beat them, join them – despite the poor understanding of the risks and benefits involved. This is vital to know because the demise of the human race is one possibility to quote geniuses like Stephen Hawking who told BBC: "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."
That said, many developing countries like Malaysia have no option but to play "catch up" framed on pre-set standards to be complied with so as to be accepted. Failing to do so, they will be cast away as "redundant". So we were lectured lately by an economics professor based summarily on R&D innovation outcomes. The context seemed to have escaped him when he concluded as being "less optimistic" (as though it is the end all and be all).
Fortunately, the relevant ministry rebutted, otherwise many more would "slavishly" agree and proceed with the one-size-fits-all (innovative?) suggested model – not unlike the colonial period.
So we really must make up our minds as a nation and people given our own ambitions and aspirations namely the Wawasan 2020, and more recently Transformasi Nasional 50. In articulating the former, the 4IR is hardly broached, although it can be fitted into some of the nine challenges especially Challenge 6 on science and technology. As for the latter it remains to be seen as to what is the call like depending on how the question is being framed. For example, next week's Khazanah Megatrends Forum billed it as "Cerebrum X Algorithm" where "X" is merely an acknowledgement of how the two interact depending as explained on "how we treat technology".
If the theme can be paraphrased to mean "Human X Machine" then one is tempted to interpret it as interactions between "Primal (natural) Intelligence" and "Artificial (synthetic) Intelligence", in the broadest sense, respectively. Rather than depending on how we treat technology, my bias is to ask how we treat "humans" instead?
After all primal intelligence competencies are inherent parts of being human, beyond just the cerebrum. Certainly, way beyond technology. It is known to deliver insights and foresights (like the 4IR) and inclusive of those who are "spiritually inspired". It therefore is capable of journeying into self-discovery leading to transcendental self-awakening where conventional (secular) thinking can never understand, let alone reach. It is cautious enough to avoid the "mistake" of overconcentrating on the "artificial" and totally ignore the "imperatives" of primal intelligence, particularly of human metaphysical experiences (spirituality and conscience) that technology has long made redundant.
There is no place for the naturally endowed primal intelligence to duly recognise the aspects of being human that machines are not privy to.
Logically speaking, it must naturally precede the 4IR in what we conjecture as the "5th Human Revolution" (5HR). Machines, for all their algorithm and synthetic (super) intelligence are at best a (mis)match to the primal instinct (called it "fitrah" or "karma") – upon which the "development" should be predicated and (re)oriented to. Thus to enable it to create its own "disruptions" towards a more humane future that is now sorely obscure (think of the mass migrations) globally.
This is of prime importance, as almost all human beings value compassion, ethics and morality to be appraised on the intrinsic state of the conscience, not merely on the extrinsic indicators of performance (the mechanistic KPIs) that have come to transform us to be machine-like. Meaning to say, the former must be deeply rooted (if not more so) before the 4IR can rightly claim to serve the needs of humans as it often alleges to do. To argue that machines can be made "conscious" through the use of "smart" technology ruled by the five extrinsic senses is to ignore what the "conscience" is all about.
Ultimately, it has to go pass the anatomical cerebrum, and its product – the algorithm, into a realm of the human "heart" – the seat of spirituality and conscience.
What is interesting therefore, 5HR if properly understood and nurtured will inspire yet another vista that is contextualised on humanitarian values, dignity as well as humanity, that "we" can truly lead, over-riding the mechanical-technological stereotypes of the 4IR.
Otherwise we are back to the dehumanising set pattern of one size fits all overlapping into the domain of machines known for their "efficiency" in taking over pattern-based functions which we are to refrain from in the first place. But foremost we must be courageously "human" enough to assert our humanity over a piece of technology that tends to dehumanise the human race as predicted. The Greek philosophers would put it as "first know thyself".
So stay tuned for the next "disruptions" of being human.
With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible".