SINGAPORE: President Tharman Shanmugaratnam addressed the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University on Tuesday (28 Nov), stressing the importance of Singapore positioning itself as a global leader in adopting new technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI). He highlighted the need to swiftly transform innovative concepts into practical business solutions to reap the immense benefits of AI.

During the dialogue, President Tharman responded to inquiries on regional cooperation, global connectivity, and the impact of technological progress. When asked about coping with changes brought by technology, he acknowledged the challenge posed by AI, which can rapidly execute tasks like auditing and legal paperwork, potentially affecting various industries.

The president emphasized the necessity for widespread AI literacy, stating that society must equip everyone with the skills to use AI as a tool. In addressing potential job displacement, he advocated for continuous investment in people at all stages of their careers, promoting Singapore’s SkillsFuture movement as a step in this direction.

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President Tharman added that effective solutions require a national strategy and public investment, emphasizing the role of government, businesses, trade unions, and communities in coordinating efforts to upskill the workforce. He pointed out that Singapore’s compact size enables efficient collaboration to ensure individuals acquire new skills through courses and career progress.

The president highlighted the positive impact of AI on addressing labour shortages in Singapore, particularly in areas like programming. He expressed confidence that AI can complement and enhance areas where passionate workers are scarce.

When asked about the ageing population and immigration issues, President Tharman advocated for a balanced approach, stating that Singapore must continue relying on immigration at a reasonable pace and quantity. He stressed the importance of integrating immigrants into local society, emphasizing the need for moderation to prevent societal strains.

Discussing multiculturalism, President Tharman warned against the risks of societies failing to integrate diverse groups, urging a shift from the metaphor of a quilt, where different pieces are stitched together, to a woven fabric where societal threads intertwine, fostering unity and trust.

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President Tharman is on a working visit to New York until Dec 4, marking his first international event since assuming office.