EDITORIAL: Staying alive in the age of disruption

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - With 5G in the wind, the stampede has begun to adapt emerging technology – and it could be deadly to dawdle.

The advent of so-called disruptive technologies will soon make current approaches to education irrelevant to the needs of the country’s future workforce, posing a major challenge for both the public and private sectors in Thailand and elsewhere.
The new round of disruptive forces will likely be most evident when the country upgrades its cellular communication network to the fifth generation (5G) over the next couple of years. The so-called “economy of speed” will become more prominent because 5G is supposed to be about 20 times faster than 4G, which we’re mainly using now. Coupled with data analysis, artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, multiple forms of automation, blockchain and other new technologies, 5G is intended to build the skill-sets that will be required by future employers, and they’ll be quite different from those of today.
According to Dr Santitarn Sathirathai, chief economist of SEA Group, whose businessess include Garena (in gaming), Shopee (e-commerce) and Airpay (e-payment), the boundary between students and teachers is also fading due to rapid technology changes. In his view, new education formats need to be innovative, with a focus on the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – as well as critical thinking, creative, empathy and other humanistic skills.
In this context, current education formats are no longer effective. Forget about rote learning, because that technique is no longer adequate to meet oncoming challenges. Coaching and inspiring methods are more powerful in helping the younger generations of students learn to meet the challenges. For the existing workforce, “re-skilling” is probably the biggest issue facing employers and policy-makers. They need to discover the best options to re-skill today’s workers to fit a workplace wholly altered and driven by disruptive technologies.
The ongoing pace of factory and warehouse automation in Thailand, for example, has resulted in a drop in the number of new jobs in the industrial sector. Over the next several years, the number of manual jobs in banking and other service industries is also set to decline because banks are investing a huge amount of money in startups to tap the potential of AI, analytics, chatbots, blockchain and other new technologies. Bank tellers are being re-trained to do other jobs because their routine work is better done with automation in terms of cost and efficiency, as evidenced by last year’s closure of many bank branches.
In the meantime, major Thai banks have already accustomed millions of retail customers to their mobile banking apps that provide services online or via machines. This also allows banks to make use of the massive customer data collected on the digital platforms for analysis programs, AI and other tools that drive their new business growth in the digital era. In the telecom sector, major operators’ call centres have turned to chatbots to provide customer service alongside human staff. 
Other sectors are preparing to use the same technology so they can benefit from data analytics, which provide better and more precise insights about their customers. In the industrial sector, logistic and warehouse operations become more productive once they adopt automation, so the large operators in food and beverages, lubricants and other industries have already invested in automatic warehouses to stay ahead of the curve.

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