The dawn of a new revolution

PRINTING out a kidney from a machine sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie.

But this could soon be our reality, as researchers continually develop 3D printing with living cells.

This is just a taste of how the next industrial revolution will be.

Loosely defined as the blurring of lines between technology and our real world, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will likely see breakthroughs that will change our lives.

This includes the emergence of robots, artificial intelligence and even technology embedded in our bodies.

In Malaysia, experts are saying the 4IR has already touched our shores, but it’s only the beginning.

To prepare for what lies ahead, new standards are being drafted by the Department of Standards Malaysia (Standards Malaysia).

Existing standards are also being reviewed to see which can be developed to support the 4IR.

Focus is given to standards affecting seven industries deemed as “pace-setters” in the country – industries where Malaysia has the right skills and know-how to potentially become a leader.

These sectors are automotive, food processing, chemicals, petroleum and pharmaceuticals, electrical and electronics, financial services, telecommunications and courier services and lastly, IT services.

For starters, 10 new standards will be introduced on blockchain technology, with three expected to be ready next year, Department of Standards Malaysia director-general Datuk Fadilah Baharin tells Sunday Star.

Blockchain, to put simply, is a list of data that cannot be manipulated.

As such, it offers a secure way to trade, reduces costs and distrust, increases security and bypasses middlemen.

It can be used in various areas but today, its main use is as a distributed ledger for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

Fadilah says the three new standards will define jargons and terminologies in the system and set benchmarks on contracts in the blockchain environment.

The other seven standards are currently being drafted.

“At the moment, there are no rules about blockchain technology in Malaysia.

“Local experts, including from Bank Negara Malaysia, are on board with us to draft these standards,” she says in an interview.

Such standards will prepare Malaysia for the development of cryptocurrencies and other potential areas which may use blockchain technology in future.

Apart from that, present standards on agriculture will also be studied and reviewed.

This is to ensure they are in line with the changing times, including how latest technologies can be part of production in plantations and other commodities.

“The standards are already there. But we need to infuse it with technology,” Fadilah adds.

But while the 4IR is set to be an exciting time, Malaysia does face several challenges which may impede how fast we can adapt to this era.

Fadilah points out that there is still a socio-economic gap between urban and rural areas in the country, with some areas still trailing behind in terms of infrastructure.

Such an imbalance can stand in the way of our country fully embracing 4IR.

“Some places still do not have good quality Internet access.

“Some people also have problems owning a car but elsewhere, others are considering driverless cars and electric cars,” she says.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome is the people’s mindset.

“Technology is evolving and machines can be modified. But change must first come from within.

“We will lag behind if people do not embrace change and only stick to a fixed mindset,” she adds.

Agreeing, Academy of Sciences Malaysia chief executive officer Hazami Habib says the 4IR is already here in Malaysia but we will fall behind if people do not see beyond boundaries.

Drawing from her personal experience, she says an example of innovative thinking was meeting with a plantation operator who used a drone with a video camera to monitor crops, instead of having workers walk around the whole area.

Such creative thinking, using technology, is needed if Malaysia is to be in tandem with the 4IR.

“To build the right ecosystem, we need the Government, business sector, academics and the civil society to have a mindset that supports growth.

“We need the kind of leadership that encourages innovation,” she says.

She says the seven “pace-setter” industries in Malaysia, outlined by a recent local study, showed that Malaysia has the necessary knowledge and strengths in such areas.

And we should use this to our advantage to launch us forward into the 4IR.

“The most precious commodity in future is knowledge. It is the next currency. As long as we have it, we will stay relevant.

“If we don’t have knowledge and technology, we will keep buying other people’s inventions,” Hazami says.

She also points out that 98% of companies in Malaysia are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

But it is the remaining 2% companies consisting of government-linked companies and multi-national firms which outperform all the rest.

“The 2% of companies have higher productivity. In the 4IR, we need a collaborative economy with shared vision.

“For example, 10 SMEs can join forces to fill the whole value chain of production to compete with larger companies,” she illustrates.

As for whether the advancements in 4IR like robots will be a threat to human jobs, Hazami sees it as opportunities rather than threats.

“Robots still require humans to maintain them. Robots can process data in seconds but it is humans who analyse the data and give them meaning,” she says.

She also believes Malaysia will have the necessary human capital to face 4IR in its full bloom.

“Semi and high skilled talents are in the pipeline. The Government’s policy of having 60% of students in science disciplines will fulfil requirements of the future.

“The focus on Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) will also ensure Malaysia has the right kind of workers,” she says.

In line with the growing conversation on 4IR, the revolution has become the theme for this year’s World Standards Day, celebrated on Oct 14.

Standards Malaysia, as a member of the International Organisation for Standardisation, is commemorating the event by organising a competition on Instagram which ends on Oct 31.

Winners, who repost the contest poster and complete a caption on 4IR, will stand to win cash prizes, with the first prize being RM1,000.

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