What women have to once again do to save the world?
Speech by Khairy Jamaluddin
PPSEAWA international conference 2019
Date: June 23, 2019
Since PPSEAWAʼs founding in 1928 humankind has confronted many existential threats. Only a year after PPSEAWAʼs birth, the world, especially the West, experienced a tremendous economic depression. That indirectly led some years later to the outbreak of a global war which in turn led to a terrifying nuclear stalemate. Other than armed conflict, famine, poverty, infant mortality, disease were real problems that cost millions of lives.
Today we look back and realise how far we have come. While there continues to be civil wars, genocide and terrorist attacks, on a global scale the threat of war has diminished compared to when PPSEAWA was formed. So too economic and social indicators. Although the international community is still focused on alleviating poverty, reducing economic inequality, improving access to healthcare, nutrition, sanitation and education to the most vulnerable as per SDG 2030, global prosperity has increased over the last few decades.
Technology has enabled us to cure diseases, make work more efficient, disseminate knowledge faster, increase cooperation around the world. For those born today, they will grow up in a world where the physical, digital and biological spheres will intertwine even more as artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic biology and quantum computing change the way we live.
Yet, this is not to say there are no existential threats to humankind today. The specter of global war may not exist as we know it, but are we truly immune from armed conflict? I mentioned earlier civil wars, genocides and terrorist attacks that still threaten parts of humanity. The rise of extremist politics can easily descend to physical violence if not challenged and contained. There are many geopolitical flashpoints around the world that not only remain unresolved but are subject to the influence of superpower rivalries.
Economic inequality remains a big challenge. A new billionaire was created every two days between 2017 and 2018. Yet, almost half of the world lives on less than USD5.50 a day.
In 1928 when PPSEAWA was founded, people thought of war, famine and poverty as their existential threats. Today, we face a threat of our own doing: the global climate crisis. If we do not change the way we live today, there will not be a tomorrow for our children to live. Its as simple as that.
When I was a minister in the Malaysian government I was asked to future-proof our country by looking at the big changes that would take place over the next 30 years. By forecasting and anticipating as much as possible, we wanted to put in place public policy and the funds to cushion the impact of these changes on our people.
Some of the changes that we foresaw are: an aging society by 2035, longevity and social protection, urbanisation, safeguarding natural resouces, jobs of the future and IR4.0, new threats (cyber, fake news). This is by no means exhaustive. The hope is that present governments can plan for the future, not just for the present generation that will be aging but also for future generations. It is important to always be cognisant that what we do today will be borne by future generations. If we deplete natural resources and continue to burn the planet, they will suffer. If we conserve, preserve and develop sustainably, they will reap the benefits. Just as one of PPSEAWAʼs founding goals is “Identifying the needs and problems of todayʼs women and children,” I would like to add to this by including ‘tomorrowʼs women and childrenʼ. Now, more than ever, we need to be able to look far into the future and safeguard that future for those that come after us.
This brings me to my final observation.
PPSEAWA was founded to strengthen peace and friendship. And this was done with women at the centre of this wonderful, multinational movement that is recognised by the United Nations. It was hoped that women could shape the world through their families, especially by imparting the right values to their children. As a child of PPSEAWA, I thank you. Whatever small achievement I have in my life is mostly due to what my mother has taught me. And she is a proud PPSEAWA sister.
But here is the challenge for all of us today. With rapid changes especially in technology, humans are confronted with perhaps the biggest crisis of identity in history. Artificial intelligence is no longer confined to the realms of science fiction. Robots are increasingly doing jobs that humans used to do. Children are becoming addicted to their gadgets. We may have more friends than before, but these are friends that we have never met. They are Facebook friends. We read and believe unverified messages on social media. In this kind of world, we also become insecure. Combine this with wealth disparity and economic inequality, transnational migration, populist and extremist politics, we become hostages to leaders who speak to our fears.
This requires us to ask ourselves: what does it mean to be human in this volatile, digital world. Will humans still have any role and utility? How do we promote peace and friendship when politics has become toxic?
I think there are still values that make us uniquely human, that artificial intelligence and robots cannot fully understand or replicate. Values that are needed to combat hatred, intolerance and prejudice. And these values more than anything have to be nurtured in our children. Yes, it is important for them to have academic rigour or vocational skills, but those the robot can and will do soon. But these values will remind us of what it is to be human.
he first is empathy. Empathy is easier said than done. We may be able to think empathetically, putting ourself hypothetically in another personʼs shoes but can we act empathetically especially if it does not bring us any benefit? And yet, empathy is perhaps the most important quality that is needed to right long-standing wrongs, to allow everyone to fulfill their God-given potential and to fight the toxic politics of hate.
The second is related to empathy. And that is compassion. Algorithms cannot possibly learn the full depths of human compassion. Robots may be able to one day attend to your physiological needs by performing open heart surgery on us but can they attend to our mental health? Societies will need governments that are compassionate as we become older, in need of social security.
接下來是「合作」。機器可以互相交談，但他們真的在互相交談嗎？人類合作帶來了最偉大、長久的和平與繁榮的時代，然而，今天我們看到了對這個偉大的全球契約的威脅: 戰爭正在進行中、各國希望孤立並單獨行動、邊界正在建立以防止合法移民、各國正逐漸擺脫以規則為基礎的國際體系。我們能扭轉這個局面嗎？ 我們看到世界各地的年輕人如何在網上聚集起來應對氣候危機，這是鼓舞人心的，因為他們發現若沒有合作和集體發聲，他們的未來正在被剝奪。
Next is cooperation. Machines can talk to one another, but do they really TALK to one another? Human collaboration has resulted in the greatest, prolonged era of peace and prosperity. Yet, today we see threats to this great global compact. Wars are being fought in trade, countries want to isolate and go it alone, borders are being erected preventing legitimate migration, countries are slowly moving away from a global, rules-based international system. Can we reverse this? We see how young people around the world are getting together online to fight the climate crisis. This is inspiring because they see that without collaboration and their collective voice, we are robbing them of their future.
Fourth is imagination. Human ingenuity can provide solutions to today and tomorrowʼs problems. Governments cannot solve everything. Neither can the markets. Technology is amoral. It is neither good nor bad. Its how it is used that is important. We must ensure that our imagination of using new technologies are directed towards solving our problems and not adding to them.
And finally, we need reflection. Whether this is religious prayer, philosophical thought or quiet meditation, we need to take time and reflect on our personal state of being and that of humankind. Computers cannot reflect. Most politicians and CEOs donʼt either. Thatʼs why the wrong kinds of decisions are often made. Short-term, populist, dishonest, self-interested decisions are the result. If we are able to regularly take a little time to compose our thoughts and redirect our action, I believe we will be in a better position to address some of the problems I have spoken about tonight.
So there it is. Some thoughts from a PPSEAWA son about what women have to once again do to save the world. The Chinese proverb says, Nv sing neng ding ban bian tian. Women uphold half the sky. I think you uphold more than half of the sky. The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. I hope you will all continue to rock the world with your wisdom and compassion right up to and beyond your centenary in 2028.