Padi fields in Sekinchan. An example of high-tech driven change is sensor-enabled smart farming, focused down to square meter scale, with irrigation water delivered precisely when and where needed, while saving energy. FILE PIC

INNOVATIVE technologies defining the Fourth Industrial Revolution hold the promise of a path to environmental sustainability. Their introduction is also transforming the world’s workplaces, with expectation of countless jobs being created and eliminated at a rapid pace, with the many social implications such disruption entails.

Such was the basis of discussion at last week’s Global Innovation Summit 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, organised by the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils (GFCC) and the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT).

The issues addressed at the summit could not be more important. How to achieve an innovative, competitive and environmentally sustainable economy is fundamental to our national well being. There are major opportunities and rewards, but serious risks are also abundant in the decisions made today.

According to Deborah Wince-Smith, president of GFCC and chief executive officer of the United States Council on Competitiveness, the world is entering “a technology-driven Age of Optimisation” bringing about more sustainable production and consumption. These technologies “could answer the grand global challenges of adequate food, clean water, energy, the environment and global health”.

Digitisation, sensorisation, and big data will help optimise all aspects of manufacturing production, according to Wince-Smith.

“We will have the ability to illuminate the operation of every machine and device, the cut of every blade, every movement of material, and the consumption of energy minute by minute — providing insight for greater efficiency, waste reduction and lower energy consumption.”

Other examples of high-tech driven change include sensor-enabled smart farming, focused down to square meter scale, with irrigation water delivered precisely when and where needed, while saving energy.

With sustainability heavily dependent on innovation, GFCC outlined 10 guiding principles for nations, regions and cities to succeed in ever more fierce global trading rivalries and achieve environmental sustainability.

The principles emphasise key competitiveness drivers: research and development; education and training for all; sustainable and responsible natural resource development; strong intellectual property rights; open trade; and, a stable, transparent, efficient and fair environment for business investment, formation and growth.

The key message from GFCC: Nations that lead the world in innovation will also lead in environmental sustainability and economic success.

Many delegates later joined
the inter-sessional meeting of Malaysia’s Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC), an informal group of distinguished national and international leaders in economics, business, science and technology, mandated with helping Malaysia reach developed country status by 2020.

GSIAC, likewise, took up technology issues, but from the perspective of Malaysia’s readiness for “Industry 4.0” — the automation and digitisation of industrial processes through robotics and emerging technologies, also called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Presented at the meeting was a GSIAC survey of nine senior business and government executives in Malaysia, revealing major concerns, most notably regarding shortfalls in talent, coordinated direction and a lack of awareness about the profound industrial revolution under way worldwide.  

The assessment was to help inform and complement a policy document on Industry 4.0 being developed by the International Trade and Industry Ministry.

The world’s three past industrial revolutions evolved from the invention of the steam engine, the electrification and expansion of industries for mass production and the digital revolution produced by computers and information technologies.

Industry 4.0 is being driven
by the convergence of advanced technologies, such as robotics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing.

Industry 4.0 includes “the digitisation of the manufacturing sector, with embedded sensors in virtually all product components and manufacturing equipment”, and real-time analysis of data during the manufacturing process.  

This transformation has the potential to disrupt “almost every industry in every country” and “is evolving much faster and with greater impact” than any of the previous industrial revolutions, according to the assessment. And “in an ever more globalised world, Malaysia is compelled to embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution in order to stay competitive”.

But, the nation needs to be better prepared to confront the profound challenges ahead.  With that in mind, the report elaborates on eight major recommendations:

STRENGTHEN talent development;

SET clear governmental directions;

INCREASE awareness;

FOCUS on the 20 per cent of corporations with the conviction to embrace Industry 4.0;

LEVERAGE large corporations;

CREATE a conducive business ecosystem;

IMPROVE Internet infrastructure; and,

FOCUS on the service sector.

With respect to the first recommendation — talent development — the last word belongs to my joint chairman at MIGHT, Tan Sri Ahmad Tajuddin Ali: “As a nation, our future competitive advantage will rely largely on our strength and depth of science and technology-based innovation capacity. Otherwise, our ability to compete in the global marketplace will be severely jeopardised. If we do not do the right things today, especially in the field of education, when the time comes, it will be too late, as the real outcome of what we do today will only be realised 20 to 30 years from now.”

Zakri Abdul Hamid is science adviser to the prime minister and recipient of the 2017 Global Competitiveness Award from the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils

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