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FOCUS: PROFESSOR EMERITUS DATUK DR. MAZLAN OTHMAN

FOCUS: PROFESSOR EMERITUS DATUK DR. MAZLAN OTHMAN

PROFESSOR EMERITUS DATUK DR. MAZLAN OTHMAN

Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr. Mazlan Othman is no stranger to being the first. She is Malaysia’s first Astro-physicist; the first woman in the entire history of her University (the University of Otago, New Zealand) to earn a PhD in Physics; the first Director of the country’s National Space Agency, Angkasa; and the first head of Malaysia’s Angkasawan Project that successfully launched Malaysia’s first astronaut, Datuk Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, into space. Datuk Dr. Mazlan is now the Director of MegaScience 3.0, a futures-planning project of the government of Malaysia. She may have left the space industry but the subject has not left her. In our conversation below, she talks about her passion for space, her thoughts on Malaysia’s space sector, technology trends for the future and the MegaScience project she is leading. 

Datuk Dr. Mazlan is now the Director of MegaScience 3.0, a futures-planning project of the government of Malaysia. She may have left the space industry but the subject has not left her. In our conversation below, she talks about her passion for space, her thoughts on Malaysia’s space sector, technology trends for the future and the MegaScience project she is leading. 


Q: Datuk, tell us about your background. When did your interest in Science, in Physics, particularly begin?     

I started going to school in 1957, the year of Independence. It's hard for people to appreciate that my generation goes back that long. At that time, we didin't have the sort of schools that you have. Even if they were libraries, they didn't have books on space. The good thing with my generation is that most of us were forced to go into science. 

Q: What do you mean you were forced, Datuk? 

Well, I was in TKC (Tunku Kurshiah College), a very good boarding school. After form three, we were asked what we wanted to do in the upper forms. I put down English Literature and Arts but because I did well in Science and Maths, I was compelled to do Science. When I say forced, what I mean is that the teachers told us the country needed more scientists and not English Literature majors. This made sense at the time. I was only fifteen, so of course, I complied with the teachers’ wishes. They placed me in Pure Science. To cut the story short, I have no regrets whatsoever going into Science. 

Having gone into Science, I discovered physics. Physics was everything I wanted in a subject. It was mysterious and it was this mystery that attracted me. At the time, theories about the nucleus were still very new. People didn’t have all the answers yet. I asked my teachers: if the nucleus was made of protons and particles that have the same charges repel, why doesn’t the nucleus rip apart? He couldn’t answer me. I had to go to university to learn the answer! But those were the sort of questions that captivated me. I always had a very strong sense of curiousity.

Q: Were there teachers who helped nurture your love of Science?

We already had the best teachers as we were an elite school. Having said that, I don’t think the teachers at TKC were better than the teachers at other elite schools such as VI (Victoria Institution), St. Johns, MCKK (Malay Boys’ College Kuala Kangsar). But we did have Peace Corps teachers from Australia, the UK and the US who were very much engaged with us especially up to Form 5. So my recollection of science in the classroom was with the Peace Corps teachers. 

I especially remember Miss Vaughn, and also Miss Bergen with whom I’m still in contact. After form three, Miss Bergen reminded me to continue my appreciation of the arts. “Never leave the arts even though you are going into science”, she said. 

Throughout my life, I’ve continued to be engaged in the arts. When I was at the Planetarium, I organised art-related activities such as shows, batik art contests, astronaut suit competitions, and artist in residence programmes. I’ve organised science-inspired art camps with the National Art Gallery and for four consecutive years, we had exhibitions with the national arts gallery. I’ve continued to be engaged with the arts within my work in science, and I strongly believe that the arts and the sciences are good complements to each other.

Q: When did you discover Physics?

Until Form 6, it was sort of understood that I would go into Medicine. I thought at the time that if I had to go into medicine, I wanted to specialize in neuroscience because it’s one of the most exciting fields that was coming up, with discoveries that will change us as human beings. 

Then I entered university and I got into Physics. It was at university also that I discovered Astrophysics. Why did I choose astrophysics and not solid state physics or nuclear physics? Well, astrophysics brought me back to my love of the arts and philosophy. If you open up any astronomy or astrophysics book, you wonder at the beauty of our universe. Where does the universe come from? In terms of reaffirming the greatness of the Creator, there is nothing better than a book on Astronomy.

Q: What was the response at the time to you, a woman, deciding to go into Physics, what more Astrophysics?

When I was an undergraduate, I got the distinct feeling that boys were intimidated by me because of my choice to study Physics. I think they would not have been so intimidated if I had chosen medicine! At university, I was one of two girls in the first three years in class. I decided to do an extra Honours year, and that made me the only girl out of around 15 students. Later on, I decided I wanted to do a PhD. Whenever I told people that I was doing a PhD in Physics, they would respond with, “What’s a nice girl like you doing Physics?”. And I didn’t even tell them I was doing Astrophysics! 

I was the only woman in the doctoral programme. Other women dropped out either to get married, or because they found the programme too tough. I was the first woman ever in the University of Otago’s 120-year history to get a PhD in Physics!

As the only girl in a department full of guys, I didn’t feel I had to work harder but, of course, I had to impress my supervisor. That was the most difficult part of the programme but eventually, I got my PhD. Until the Angkasawan programme came along, I thought getting the PhD was the most difficult part of my life! 

Q: Has the landscape changed for women when it comes to Pure Sciences in general, and Astrophysics in particular? 

There are more women in universities, and many of them are getting into the sciences. Women are less intimidated by the Sciences, thanks to increased exposure in schools and within society as well as the availability of role models. So I would say yes, the landscape has changed and there are more women in science and in astrophysics. You’re an astrophysicist if you have Masters or PhD. With a degree, you are a physicist. I don’t know the exact number of women astrophysicists in Malaysia but I have supervised a few and I know there are women lecturers teaching astrophysics in Universiti Malaya. It’s not an easy subject, regardless of gender. I supervised a woman who received her PhD a few years ago. Unfortunately, she found the subject so tough that after her PhD, she didn’t want to have anything to do with astrophysics! 

Q: So, if you are an astrophysicist who doesn’t want to do astrophysics, what other careers can you go into?

Well, the thing about astrophysics is that the skillsets you pick up are so wide, you can apply them to many other sectors. As an astrophysicist, or a physicist for that matter, you would have experience in data analysis, data manipulation, and mathematical modelling. I know a few of my peers who received job offers from computer companies even before they graduated. Physicists are also sought after in banking as their research departments need people who are good with numbers. As a physicist, your skills would enable you to model the share market, for example. Using the principles of fluid mechanics, you can gauge the fluidity and direction of the market. You know, the ones who came up with the hedge fund models are physicists. I’m not blaming them for the financial crisis, of course, but I am illustrating that physics can be applied to a lot of areas. 

Q: Datuk, I read in a recent report that women represent less than 30% of researchers in STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields around the world. Do you believe that those numbers are true and that there is a shortage of female talent in STEM, especially in Malaysia? 

Well, if the statistics cover general researchers, the numbers could be right. In the life sciences, for example, I’d be surprised if the ratio of women to men is not already 50-50. Perhaps Engineering remains intimidating to many women though my bet is this has changed significantly. If you include maths and physics, 30% could be in the right ballpark.  

Q: You were told in your time that the country needed more scientists to develop. Do you still believe this is the case? Does Malaysia need more scientists? If you project the future linearly, most of the jobs that form the industrial base of the economy would require an understanding of science and engineering. However, the future is not linear.

If you project the future linearly, most of the jobs that form the industrial base of the economy would require an understanding of science and engineering. However, the future is not linear. The biggest threat or rather, the biggest change on the horizon will come from work automation. There are millions of workers in the factories of today but in future, robots will take over their tasks. Many jobs that will no longer exist. With automation and robots, we won’t need as many doctors, for example. Some people just can’t imagine that future. 

The robots of today are mostly cold and unfriendly but this is changing, and soon, I believe we will have robots that can be as gentle as human beings. 

You know, I’ve been sick enough to be hospitalized and during those times, I really disliked the indignity involved in having other humans take care of you. I’m not the only one. Companies are developing robots that could take care of sick patients just as well as humans. In future, we may all prefer robots taking care of us if they are able to be as attentive to our needs. 

STEM is necessary. But unfortunately, it is not enough. On top of deep knowledge in STEM, we must also have creativity. It is this ingredient that will make Malaysia competitive in future and that will change the world. We can have the best brains in science and maths but we need to ensure that these brains can also think outside the box. Why do you think Steve Jobs was so successful? It was because he appreciated the role of aesthetics in making technology accessible to people. So, we need creativity and innovation on top of STEM. The question is: how do we inculcate creativity from young?

Q: How do you see the role of the education system in this?

Our education system should deliberately set out to make our students creative. We need more creative thinkers and we need to inculcate in our young this love to create new things and the passion for new ideas. As the student matures, he or she should not only be a critical thinker but also a creative one. On top of STEM, it would be innovation that would set Malaysia apart from the competition. 

Q: Datuk, you were instrumental in setting up the national space agency in 2002. What was your vision for that agency?

It was simple – I wanted Malaysia to be a country that is respected internationally in the field of space. To achieve that, there were several things I had to do. One of them was to set the target that by the year 2020, we would have the technological capability to build our own MEASAT Satellites. At the time and until now, our satellites are being built by the French and the Americans, through companies like Boeing. I wanted Malaysia to be able to build these satellites on our own. I built the foundation for this goal.

Unfortunately, I believe that Malaysia’s space industry has taken many steps – backwards. We are not even stagnating – that would see us in a better position than where we are now. If you can imagine a graph, stagnation implies we had gone up the curve and are now on a horizontal line. But we have regressed. We are not building satellites, we no longer have programmes that work towards building our space capabilities.

The saddest part is that other countries have forged ahead. Around 2004, our space programme was the envy of several countries, especially the African countries. There were even countries that were concerned about our capabilities. But today, some of these countries have surpassed our achievements. A few months ago, Singapore launched six small satellites, doing the things that I thought Malaysia should be doing. Vietnam is catching up with us. Nigeria has their own facilities. Thailand and Indonesia are ahead of us. We may be trying hard but we have regressed.

Q: So we are not on track to build our own satellites by the year 2020?

We are absolutely NOT on track. We had the facilities and the human resources but If you don’t invest in the technology and build satellites, good talent will leave. Space is one sector that people enter because they are inspired by very big and noble goals. Space is inspirational and aspirational; that’s why in the US, the industry attracts the best minds. If you compared space to, say, biotech, the motivations are different. Biotech is business-driven while in the space industry, people are motivated by goals bigger than themselves and their companies. These people will leave if there are no programmes and no aspirational targets to work towards. So, we have hollowed out our capability and capacity. It’s very sad.

Q: What would it take, in your opinion, to rejuvenate Malaysia’s space programme?

If we look at national development as being necessarily holistic and comprehensive for the sake of the future of our country, we will come to the conclusion that the space sector is an indispensable part of that future. There are parts of our economy for which space assets are critical (communications, navigation), while others could do better if we utilized their services better (agriculture, education, environmental protection).  This awareness is currently very low hence a lot more has to be done to raise it. It's not like we have to start building heavy-lift rockets immediately. We should however slowly build up our capability commensurate with our needs and resources. 

Q: You headed the Angkasawan project, Datuk. Wasn’t this project designed to inspire more Malaysians to be more interested in space science?

That was part of the vision, of course: for people to relate themselves to space. When the space agency was set up, I held talks on satellites and rockets, on space technology. But the media was not interested. They kept asking that as Malaysia now had a space agency, was Malaysia going to launch an astronaut into space? I kept resisting this idea until I came home in 2002. I met the Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir, and asked him to give me a clue as to what to do. He said that every now and then, the country needs to rally behind something that cuts across race and economic means. A project that is inspirational. That was how the Angkasawan project came into being. I worked with Tun Mahathir on the project.

Q: Where were the challenges you faced in the Angkasawan project?

Well, everything was new and had not been done before, so there was nothing in place that I could refer to! Just two simple examples: What would happen to the Angkasawan when he returns? I had to go to JPA (the Public Service Department of Malaysia) and convince them to create a position. The Angkasawan cannot be an ordinary civil servant but would be an Ambassador of some sort to inspire children. He couldn’t be a 9-to-5 desk-bound civil servant. 

The discussions with JPA took two years before JPA finally agreed on an official position. I had to think of all these things four years ahead of time! Second example: To go into the ISS, we needed to have insurance. This was the Russians’ pre-condition. It wasn’t life insurance that we needed but a liability insurance, in the event our Angkasawan presses a button by mistake and endangers everyone else. But our government never had this kind of insurance and initially refused to provide for it. So I had to work it out with the Treasury to get them to understand. Then there were the other elements – the programme itself, the training, visa requirements. I tell you, it was the worst three to four years of my career! I got up every single day and faced a new set of problems. 

Then, towards the end it became very high profile and attracted other problems. The press were upon us all the time. We tried our best to avoid errors but of course, we made mistakes and the press made us suffer for them. The programme became political, a glamour exercise - it was very stressful.

Q: Was there any particular reason that the selection of the Angaksawan was open to the public?

Tun Mahathir launched it in October 2003 before he stepped down as Prime Minister and I opened it to the public in January 2004. We were discussing the selection process. Tun Mahathir proposed that we identify a select group of people and train them. I had a different idea.  I said that we would miss a very good chance of engaging with the public if we took that route. Instead, we should open up the application process and encourage people to apply. “Are you sure?” he asked me. “How many will apply?” “Around 1,000,” I told him, very confidently.

We received 11,000 applications.

We developed a selection funnel to trim down the number of candidates. The first was to require applicants to have at least a Bachelor’s degree. That eliminated one third of the candidates. Then we put people through a physical test – they had to run a certain distance within a certain time. The run would take place in six places in Malaysia on particular dates. We also insisted that candidates register themselves again to sign up for the physical test. More people dropped out. Soon, we had 2,500 people who agreed to the physical test. After the run, half of them were disqualified. Those who qualified were given a basic medical exam similar to that administered for pilots. That eliminated more people. So, it was all self-selection, and I didn’t have to reject people.  I was actually starting to worry if we would have anyone left at the end of the selection process!

Because of our selection methods, people couldn’t accuse us of favouritism. Of course, older contestants were eliminated; women were also eliminated through the physical test. Out of the thousands of applicants, 18% were women. But after the run, we were down to a handful of women.

So the selection filters became more difficult – medical, physical, psychological. We also conducted profiling - we wanted someone who would not be intimidated in ISS and would be able to stand up for themselves as well as someone who would be able to learn a new culture and language.

Q: Will there be an Angkasawan II Project?

Of course, I already had this in mind when I put the first programme together. But before you start the second programme, you need to ask: What do you want to achieve? 

With the first Angkasawan project, we were very clear that one, we wanted a project that would inspire the youth to be interested in science and to strive for physical and mental excellence. Second, we wanted to conduct some cutting-edge scientific experiments in space. With the zero gravity environment, we wanted to see the breakthroughs that we could achieve. The third objective was to introduce our culture to space. We brought the Quran, Malaysian food, and batik to space. That’s what space is about – it’s the cultures of 193 nations in world. Some opposed me on that – they say space is only about the technology and should not involve religion, culture, education. But I think space programmes should be holistic. I agree with the Japanese, French, and Italian approach where the element of culture is very strong. Finally, of course, our objective was to bring space to the hearts of our people. When our angkasawan is up in space, people would have conversations about it. 

When I talked about making Teh Tarik in space, I was ridiculed. The press did not give me a chance to explain that Teh Tarik is about fluid dynamics. You cannot make Teh Tarik in space, and given how popular the drink is among Malaysians, people would have learnt about fluid dynamics without realising it.  On the ISS, many experiments had to do with liquids – what happens when you suck it, and so on. But the press ridiculed the Teh Tarik idea and ridiculed the entire angkasawan programme. I was never given a chance to explain and I regret until today that I was not more persistent in explaining why I had proposed the idea of Teh Tarik. 

The next Angkasawan programme cannot have the same objectives. We’ve surpassed those. What is left are these: either you demonstrate ground-breaking science or you demonstrate a technology that space-faring nations want. If you don’t do either of these, then the space community would see our second Angkasawan project as tedious. So the questions to ask are: Is there some ground-breaking science or technology? The next question would be: do we really need a Malaysian angkasawan to conduct the experiments? You could can ask the Japanese, the Americans, maybe even the robots to conduct the experiments. So we should be very clear on what we want to achieve and equally clear that sending our own astronaut is the best way. The third question then is about the Angkasawan – who to send to space. The criteria must change for us to move forward. People may mistakenly think I am not gung-ho about another angkasawan programme. I am all for it, provided that we set very clear and distinct objectives from the first. 

The criteria must change for us to move forward. People may mistakenly think I am not gung-ho about another angkasawan programme. I am all for it, provided that we set very clear and distinct objectives from the first. 

Q: Datuk, did you watch The Martian?

Yes I did! 

Q: When do you think humans would be able to live on, or travel to Mars?

I heard this from the mouth of the NASA administrator himself five years ago: The person who is going to Mars is already born. 

The US are really serious about going to Mars. The UAE are also going to launch an orbiter to Mars to help others who are planning to travel there. The Europeans, too, have their own Mars programme.  

How would we get to Mars? Well, the US believe asteroids are the key – they want to launch their rockets off asteroids. Europeans feel that the launch should be from the moon, so they are working to colonise the moon and gather resources from it before they travel to Mars. It’s also more energy efficient to launch from the moon.

My point is: the Mars programmes are very serious – the technology is in place and are being developed further. Most importantly, in the US, the private sector is getting involved in a big way. Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk may have different objectives but they are working to make it possible. So there are good vibes about Mars programmes when the government and private sector are working together. 

By 2050, there’s a good chance that a human being would travel to Mars. There is also a good chance that the first crew to fly to Mars will not be all-American or all-European but will be a group of people representing the human race. 

One of the visions I had when I began the Angkasawan Project was to have a Malaysian on such a trip. That would be really cool. But you can’t dream of this unless Malaysia has embarked on something that gives people confidence that Malaysia has the talent and the capability to contribute to the mission. Actually, to have a Malaysian even be considered as a candidate would have been an achievement. 

I know that to a lot of people having a Malaysian on board a mission to Mars is not a big deal. I mean, who cares if you get selected to go to Mars? But I do. I care very much.

Q: Will the involvement of the private sector spur technological advancement and shorten the time horizon for humans to travel to Mars?

Right now, the Russians are bringing humans to the ISS. They are the only ones who can do that. There is a private company called Space X (owned by Elon Musk) that provides food and other materials to the ISS and brings back waste. So the private sector is servicing the ISS already but they haven’t got to the stage of transporting humans there. Of course, the end objective is to bring space tourists to the moon and to Mars. The entrepreneurs who are serious about this mission are Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos. Robert Bigelow’s company (Bigelow Aerospace) is planning to build hotels in space. 

In November last year, the US passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act allowing the private sector to go to the moon and other celestial objects and exploit the resources for their own purpose. 

The international stance is that nobody should exploit these celestial objects but the Americans argue that while no one owns international waters on earth, nothing stops countries from harvesting fish from the oceans. So it’s the same idea. You may not own the moon it should not mean that you cannot mine the resources of the moon and bring them back to earth. Of course, a cleverer way would be to mine and utilize the resources on the celestial objects themselves. But some precious metals may be useful on earth.

Q: Datuk, you were part of the UN branch that oversees and regulates space exploration. From this perspective, could you comment on the recent US Commercial Space Law and also tell us what you see are the future challenges in the area of space exploration regulations?

There’s a group of people who are entirely against the US law. They point out that it’s like mining oil in the Antarctica which is the common heritage of mankind. As space is the common province of all humankind, then what the Americans are doing is against international law. Of course it can be argued that international law itself does not specifically address this issue. What it says is that the activity needs to be regulated. So what the Americans are doing is regulating it to prevent free exploitation by the private sector. I believe they foresee that their companies will have the capability to mine and exploit resources on these celestial objects. They won’t codify the law but for the next few years they will observe how things develop and shape the laws to govern the private sector. This assumes, of course, that the government bodies will behave responsibly. As an example, we were all excited at finding water on MARS. As soon as the discovery was proven, NASA took a step back; it ensured that the rover it had on Mars did not travel to where the water is suspected to be for fear it would contaminate life on Mars. A government body like NASA can afford to step back but would the private sector have done the same?

Q: So, international laws are not keeping pace with developments in space travel and exploration.

It’s actually a good thing because you may retard advancement, otherwise. Like other sectors such as genetic engineering and nanotech, the laws governing space exploration has to be behind the pace of technology. 

Q: For the Americans, what’s the objective of their Mars programme?

Well, in some way, going to Mars is like President Kennedy’s mission to the moon. Their policy since Bush is to have a mission to Mars. Obama may have a different approach but the end-game is the same: Mars. This year, NASA has received an increase in their budget while others are facing cuts. Congress is determined that the nation should build the rocket to go to Mars. The next US President will have to look into this.

Q: Can you let us know about the new project that you’re heading, MegaScience 3.0? 

Megascience is a project to look at the big picture of science and technology and put in place action plans, intervention, and strategies to allow our country to benefit. Let me explain first that there were Megascience 1.0 and 2.0. Megascience 1.0 dealt with water, energy, health, agriculture, and biodiversity to find answers to the energy question for the future while Megascience 2.0 focused on housing, infrastructure, transportation, environment, electricals and electronics. 

For Megascience 3.0, we are more industry focused, zeroing on furniture (high economic impact), automotive, creative, tourism, plastics and composites; we use data and consultations to project to the year 2050. By August 2016, we should know already what our priorities are for each sector to ensure these industries thrive. 

There is one change that I introduced since I came back to head Megascience 3.0. I wanted to make sure that the outputs from each industry jived with one another. From the previous Megascience programmes, it seemed that each industry had its own future. There was no common future among the sectors. Water did not speak to Energy, and so on, despite the fact that the Water-Energy-Food nexus is critical. 

This time, we made sure that we projected common futures for all the sectors. We also constructed different scenarios for Malaysia as a whole in terms of society and culture, economics, science and technology and geopolitics. The scenarios have to gel into the projected future of 2050. We have formulated four scenarios: the ideal, “best-case” scenario, and the “worst-case” scenario, plus two other scenarios in between. The worst-case scenario is useful because it directs our thinking to preventive measures. 

We are determined that the public will be able to understand these futures. So we’ve employed writers to compose the narratives. It’s basically storytelling about the possible futures for Malaysians. The findings would be made public sometime in August 2016.

Q: Given all the research that you’ve done for MegaScience, what are your biggest concerns for Malaysia?

I feel the country is not investing enough in Research and Development overall. I’m not referring to Science and Technology R&D in particular but R&D in general. Without proper research, we won’t have enough good data. Some of the policies we formulate contain no data behind their proclamations. For example, we set a goal for 60% of students to go into STEM at university level but when we did our research we found that barely 10% qualified to go into the Science stream! How did this policy come into being in the first place? Policies must be based on data.

Our education system is my other concern. The system is not creating enough thinkers for the future. To produce thinkers, we must encourage creativity and not neglect the Arts. It’s not enough to build knowledge in STEM, there should also be “an enculturation of culture” to make the system a more holistic one. Innovation comes from creativity, and unless creativity is deliberately encouraged in schools, we are producing generations of workers but not thinkers. This may suit some segments of the population as thinkers tend to question the status quo, but for the long-term competitive edge of the country, Malaysia needs more thinkers. Our education system must teach students how to think.

Q: Let’s go the opposite end. What are your biggest reasons for optimism for Malaysia?

I value diversity. I worked in the UN before and when I was there, I was so grateful to be working among so many different people, from different backgrounds and cultures, speaking different languages. Diversity is Malaysia’s strength and we should celebrate our differences. I’m optimistic still for the country because we are very diverse, compared to a country like Japan which is very homogeneous. Malaysia’s diversity is what drives the country forward and is our reason for doing things. Any attempt to homogenise us in any way is a big mistake.

Another strength of Malaysia is our young population. We still have plenty of young people to support the aged and ageing population. Right now our demographics is still a pyramid. Of course, this is changing and by the year 2100, this pyramid will flatten which is dangerous. Malaysia needs to address the ageing issue. 

This brings me to another worry: As I’m over 60, I am concerned about what Malaysia is doing – or rather, not doing - to provide for its older people and to allow them to contribute to the nation. Many of our elderly in future will be of means and educated but will they have living options? We need to provide options for our ageing population. It doesn’t need any extraordinary measure. We can look to Japan and the US’ assisted living as examples. There are many ideas that are no-brainers but somehow Malaysia is not doing these. We rely on the assumption that younger people will take care of the older people. But what if older people – like me, for instance – would prefer to take care of themselves and are willing to pay for this care? 

Malaysia needs to address the ageing issue. Otherwise, it may find itself losing older, educated people to other countries with better facilities.

Q: What are the biggest technology trends that Malaysia should be paying attention to right now?

One, the Internet of Things: all devices will be connected to each other. This will soon evolve to become the Internet of Everything, where we will become connected to just about every device. 

Second, automation. Companies are building self-driving cars and even aeroplanes, so we have to figure out how to adjust to these new technologies. Robots are getting smarter. Right now, we can have the capability of one human brain on a single chip. In future, maybe around 2060, 1 chip could equal the brain power of everyone on the planet. So, 1 chip would equal the brains of five billion plus people!

Third, 3-D and soon, 4-D printing is revolutionising manufacturing. We may not need large factories to mass produce stuff in future as manufacturing can be done on a much smaller scale. I envision community-based manufacturing centres where the resources of that particular community will determine its output. 

Fourth, green technology. It’s hard to imagine a future without oil but technology is enabling alternatives that are friendlier towards the environment. 

Malaysian leaders need to be forward-thinking. This means leaders who not only have vision for the future but who can anticipate as well as prepare for different future scenarios for the country. It’s vision plus foresight thinking. It is the leader’s responsibility to guide our country to a good future.

 

 

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