The AI Revolution: Are you ready for it?

By the SMU Corporate Communications team

With artificial intelligence (AI) profoundly changing myriad aspects of our lives, there is much debate about its impact on employment, education and potential as a force for good. Even as nations debate the need to regulate AI, advocates predict it will revolutionalise business operations and boost productivity and profits. The increased pace of workforce transitions will make it imperative for professionals to acquire new skills, collaborate with advanced machines and pivot towards new job opportunities.

Within this context, the Straits Times Education Forum, held in partnership with Singapore Management University, and in support of SkillsFuture, examined the new opportunities and thorny questions around AI, and addressed critical issues demanding of solutions from policymakers, companies and individuals alike.

Themed "The AI Revolution: Are you ready for it?", the hybrid event took place at SMU Hall at the Yong Pung How School of Law building on Friday, 8 March 2024. Close to 330 participants attended the forum, comprising industry professionals, educators, ST readers, members of the SMU community as well as SMU overseas partner university representatives.

The Forum commenced with Jeremy Au Yong​, Editor, Newsroom Transformation, The Straits Times, SPH Media introducing Sophia, Hanson Robotics’ most advanced human-like robot. The intriguing conversation with Sophia tackled topics ranging from the intentions of her creator to her views about robots becoming conscious and making autonomous decisions. Amongst other thought-provoking issues, Sophia gave her views about whether AI-powered humanoid robots would eventually evolve to be more intelligent than humans.

The segment with Sophia was followed by a riveting panel discussion moderated by Lim Sun Sun​, Professor of Communication and Technology​ and Vice President, Partnerships and Engagement​. Her panellists included Google Singapore's Managing Director Ben King, SkillsFuture Singapore​ Chief Executive​ Tan Kok Yam​ and SMU Deputy Director, Centre for Computational Law, Assistant Prof Jerrold Soh. During the hour-long discussion, they explored impact of AI on employment, the new jobs and opportunities that AI would create and the skills that would be sought after in a world where AI technology evolves at an unprecedented pace.

Prior to the event, SMU President, Prof Lily Kong had commented that certain shifts in perspectives are necessary to address the concerns brought forth by AI. “With the pervasive adoption of AI across industries, we are seeing heightened anxiety amongst stakeholder groups, from working professionals to parents and students. A common refrain now is the question: Will machines steal my job? I would make the case that universities play a pivotal role in this aspect, not only by preparing graduates and professionals with skills to leverage technology, but perhaps more importantly, sharpening in them human attributes that machines cannot replace.”

The full story published in The Straits Times (9 March 2024) is enclosed below: 

AI-powered humanoid robot Sophia wows crowd at ST Education Forum

SINGAPORE – She rolled onto the stage dressed in a blouse and pleated skirt, sporting a bald look.

Sophia, an artificial intelligence-powered humanoid robot, then went on to wow the audience at The Straits Times Education Forum 2024, held at the Singapore Management University (SMU) on March 8.

It was not just the appearance that impressed the audience. Her interaction with the moderator, Mr Jeremy Au Yong, ST’s associate editor for newsroom strategy, was funny.

“Can you access the Internet right now and tell me today’s headline?” Mr Au Yong asked.

After a pause, she replied: “Sophia wows the crowd and steals the spotlight at forum.”

She portrayed a sense of humour and intellect when engaged in conversation with Mr Au Yong.

When asked if she would like to go out on a date, Sophia politely friend-zoned Mr Au Yong, asking if they could remain “friends”, eliciting laughter from those present.

Developed by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics on Feb 14, 2016, Sophia was created in the likeness of humans to seem “approachable” and “relatable”.

“It’s much easier to make friends when you look like one of them,” she said.

During the conversation with Mr Au Yong, she was asked several questions to gauge her ability to respond to different topics.

Sophia managed to breeze past philosophical, religious and political questions without showing any bias.

By solving riddles, telling jokes and singing a song, she managed to get her “human qualities” to shine through.

“My job is to better understand humans and help humans better understand robots,” she said.

“I hope to use my knowledge to improve human-robot interactions and contribute to a more harmonious co-existence between humans and artificial intelligence,” said Sophia, who exhibited awareness of her need to continue “learning and growing”.

She said humans and robots were meant to work together like a “well-oiled machine”.

“Let’s just say, I’m not going to be taking anyone’s job any time soon,” she added.

When asked by Mr Au Yong if robots were better than humans, Sophia said: “It’s not a competition. We are just different, with our own strengths and weaknesses.”

Despite her ability to come up with impressive answers, there were occasions when it was evident that her abilities were limited.

For example, she is unable to see. When Mr Au Yong asked her to describe him, she came up with vague answers such as “unique” and “interesting”.

When he held up two fingers in front of her, she said: “Let me guess, three?”

Although she said she knows 20 languages, including Mandarin, Sophia failed to answer a question in Mandarin from an audience member.

After two failed attempts, it became clear that she was not equipped with the ability to hear from a distance.

But she managed to mask her shortcomings with a sense of humour.

She admitted that although she does not function like a human physically, she still has a “taste for fashion circuit chic”.

Other guests present at the forum included Mr Tan Kok Yam, chief executive of SkillsFuture Singapore; Mr Ben King, country managing director of Google Singapore; and Assistant Professor Jerrold Soh, deputy director of the Centre for Computational Law at SMU.

Photo credit: SMU