THEMATIC ADDRESS BY YABHG. TUN AHMAD SARJI BIN ABDUL HAMID, CHAIRMAN, INSTITUTE OF ISLAMIC UNDERSTANDING MALAYSIA (IKIM) AT THE NATIONAL COLLOQUIUM ON ISLAMIC UNDERSTANDING – “ISLAM AND DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES” ON 22ND OCTOBER 2019 (TUESDAY) AT JALAN DUTA KUALA LUMPUR
The dictionary meaning of “technology” is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry, and “disruption” is disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process.
2. Meanwhile, the term “disruptive technology” has not much been disputed and has gained widespread currency. The term refers to technological innovations with the capacity to significantly alter the way businesses, industries and consumers operate. In essence, a disruptive technology has three main attributes. First, the technology displaces an older process, operation, product, procedure or habit. Second, it is often viewed to be more superior compared with the old technology. Third, the technology is usually developed by upstarts or genius.
3. I have learnt that there are five types of disruptive technologies:
The first is enablers, which make it possible for one or more new technologies, processes or applications to be developed. For example, the integrated circuit, transistor, gene splicing and cellular technology. The second type is called catalysts, which alter the rate of improvement of one or more technologies. For example, cloud computing and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques for DNA sequence amplification. The third type is morphers, which are technologies when combined with another technology creates one of more new technologies. For example, wireless technologies and microprocessors. The fourth is enhancers, which modify existing technologies allowing them to cross a critical threshold. For example, existing technologies such as fuel cells, lithium ion batteries, nanotechnologies and stealth technologies. The fifth category is superseders, which render existing technologies obsolete, replacing them with a superior (better, faster, cheaper and more capable) technologies. Examples include the jet engine, LCD displays and compact digital media.
4. The World Economic Forum in its 2018 publication, The Future of Jobs Report, identified four main technological drivers that will spur the growth of disruptive technologies, namely (1) High speed mobile Internet, (2) Artificial intelligence, (3) Big data analytics, and (4) Cloud technology. It has also been noted by the Forum that disruptive technologies have the potential to drive technology-based business opportunities, democratise education, expanding the middle class, and move towards a greener global economy through advancement in new energy technologies. In the recent budget, the government has announced incentives for the 5G Ecosystem and for the development of E-sports.
5. An example of disruptive technology, long before the term was conceived, is Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the “electrical speech machine” in 1876, which brought groundbreaking change in the way people communicate with each other, where physical distance was no longer a barrier for direct communication between people. This invention is the “telephone”. Today, a smart phone is used not only to communicate, but also for a multitude of other functions, including financial transactions, taking photographs and monitoring health data. Now, Kardiac Mobile can instantly detect atrial fibrillation and heart rhythm with a 30 second ECG. One can mail monthly report to share with the doctor. The device has unlimited cloud storage of the ECG recordings.
6. The medieval Islamic world (800-1600) possessed a civilization which was driven more than anything by inventions. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for diseases. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration.
7. The achievement of Muslims in the industrial field had been spectacular. During the Caliphate of Abbasids and Umayyads in Spain industries had developed to such a high degree of perfection that their finished products were viewed with wonder at the Imperial Courts of Europe. The clock that strikes the hour, presented by Caliph Harun-al –Rashid to Charlemagne, Emperor of France was regarded as an object of wonder. In Spain, Arabs had established a great civilization and had developed agriculture on an unprecedented scale. They had constructed water channels, applied scientific manures and introduced new crops. The whole of Spain especially Andalusia had been converted into a veritable garden. Agriculture was carried on along scientific lines and combining industry, skill and technological knowledge in its development, and made the most sterile tracts bloom luxuriantly. It was the Spanish Arabs who introduced rice, sugar-cane, cotton, ginger, saffron, spinach and a great variety of fruits to that desolate peninsula and developed them on a large scale. From Spain, these crops were later gradually introduced into various countries of Europe. In 1255, A.C., when Ferdinand 1, captured Seville, that province possessed several million olive trees and had more than 100,000 mills for turning out olive oil. A renowned historian writes about the achievements of the Arabs in Spain: “They levelled the earth by means of an instrument called the marhifal, and the science of irrigation was carried to high perfection. The whole country was covered with aqueducts and canals for the fertilization of the soil. The aqueducts of Carmona carried water over a distance of several leagues”. They carried on irrigation by flood gates, wheels and pumps. All these achievements were a result of the application of technology.
8. ‘Disruptive technology’ also has an impact on the creativity of people. It was reported in the daily “the SUN ON THURSDAY” on 10th October 2019 when a 19 year old, coming from a poor family conceived an innovation, namely Radio Al-Quran, a radio that contains a memory card with Quranic sermons and talks. He found markets for families, who would not use handphones as the battery would run fast. His efforts to use Radio Al-Quran was noticed by Facebook Malaysia and Facebook Singapore who advised him on how to improve his advertisements to get a wider reach. The boy’s name is Muhammad Qais Amiri Jamaluddin from the Hulu Langat Community College in Sungai Buloh, Selangor. The issue here is: who is to monitor that the “Quranic sermons and talks” are in accordance with the Sunnah Wal-Jamaah? Can apps like this replace traditional methods of learning the religion of Islam?
9. It was also recently reported: Two Sarawakian researchers have developed a technology using artificial intelligence (AI) to provide early detection of heart disease. Prof Patrick Then and Dr Brian Loh used algorithms and machine learning techniques to detect abnormalities in stress echocardiograms. “A stress echocardiogram is (a procedure) where the patient does an exercise to see how the heart is beating, because some symptoms cannot be detected when the heart is at rest. “Our work comes in after that. Once the stress echocardiogram is available, which is usually in the form of a video file, we us A1 and machine learning techniques to identify what is abnormal. “It’s like we train the computer programme to see what a normal heart looks like, and what is not normal … until the programme is able to identify the abnormal symptoms,” said Prof Then. He said the programme could help prevent heart attacks through early detection. Secondly, Malaysian scientist Prof Dr Serena Nik-Zainal has been awarded the Dr Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize 2019 for her research on cancer genome interpretation. “The powerful combination of computational analytics and experimental insights helped to drive the development of clinical computational tools to interpret whole cancer genomes more effectively”, she added. She is currently based in Britain, where she is in the University of Cambridge’s Medical Genetics Department and Medical Research Council Cancer Unit.
[The STAR – 18th October 2019 Page 3 – “Nation”]
10. In Surah an-Nahl, verse 105, Allah Subahanahu Wata’ala declared: “It is those who do not believe in the Signs of Allah, that forge falsehood, and these are the liars”. It has been reported that the polygraph is used more than 80 countries and is regarded as the best way to detect lies. It was reported in the New Sunday Times of 20th October 2019 as follows:
- polygraph tests determine whether or not a person is lying. The tests can also be used to clear the name of a person wrongly accused. A polygraph is an instrument which measures a person’s physiological reactions, such as changes in pulse, skin conductivity and breathing in order to assess whether or not he is telling the truth.
- currently, there is no precedent on the admissibility of polygraph evidence in Malaysia and Singapore.
What is the value of such evidence, a product of disruptive technology, from the Islamic viewpoint?
11. Disruptive technologies have now impacted many sectors, including education, communication, banking, retail, healthcare, manufacturing, publishing, transportation, tourism and media. The millennials especially are turning towards online sites for retail, travel and other needs. Disruptive technologies offer faster speed, wider connectivity, bigger selection and variety, for millennials to fulfil their needs. Disruptive technologies have created other sectors which are also thriving, include boutique fitness centres, custom travelling service, mobile food ordering service, and online banking. Today’s customers, for example, want customization and personalization, especially in the footwear industry. This demand requires transforming the business from a traditional one to using digital capabilities.
12. It has recently been reported that organizations expose users’ personal data, making them vulnerable to scammers. There has been calls for regulatory bodies to take punitive action again such companies. The report in the STAR of 18th October 2019 on page 6 in the “Nation” states as follows:-
The urgent wake-up call comes after a government microsite exposed users’ bank account details, just two days after a study claimed that Malaysia ranks as the fifth-worst country in terms of protecting the personal data of its citizens. Then, we have cyberbullying. There have been reports of stories of harassment and bullying from disabled students. How do we handle this phenomena of cyberbullying? The Instagram is a great way to make proper information available for people who need it. There have been reports that are reaching out to Instagram as the place in search of tips on informing mental health or even to share problems. The issue is whether the information is credible and that one can be misled. Is it ethical to give open advice or counselling over public domain such as social media? While this is a form of exercising one’s autonomy in making medical and health decisions, it has also led to a situation where patients do not need a doctor’s professional advice. What is the position of Islam in this kind of situation?
13. Social media is merely a tool and does not cause harm, not people do. It was also reported that a study in Pakistan revealedthat “nurses who choose to kill time by using social media at work have become a serious issue at hospitals and universities across that country. This behavior causes frequent conflicts among nurses about the assignment of patient case duties, as well as arguments between nurses and patients” [STAR 14.10.2019 – page 3 ‘Technology’]. More and more people are spending their time on their gadgets. This had let to problems involving sedentary lifestyle, causing health problems such as obesity and non-communicable diseases. How does Islam view this change in lifestyle?
14. Narrated by Abu Hurairah, Allah’s Messenger said: “Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for others’ faults, and do not do spying on one another, and do not practice ‘Najash’ and do not be jealous of one another and do not hate one another. And O Allah’s worshippers! Be brothers! The unfortunate fact is that the social media is not free of these banes. The social media has also become a platform for just about anyone to express their views freely, especially since it allows for anonymous comments. Some of these views lead to polemics and controversy, even challenging some principles of Islam. How does Islam view this development? Some gadgets in the age of disruptive technologies are becoming more sophisticated. We can now store video and voice recordings in them. What is the Islamic view point if information such as these are stored for the purpose of damaging other people’s reputation?
15. Social media also provides people to readily share photographs and information about their activities, including the places that they visit, the food that they eat, the people that they meet, and the functions that the attend. What are the limits set by Islam in sharing these types of information so as to ensure that the sharing is not a means of showing off? In the era of big data, what is the view of Islam on the utilization and sharing of personal data?
16. Facial recognition technology is becoming more widely used. Some quarters have expressed concerns with regard to privacy. What is the Islamic guideline in safeguarding a person’s privacy, specifically on facial recognition?
17. This colloquium may also wish to discuss the following questions: (i) how should we monitor social media, if at all? (ii) how can we encourage competition and privacy? (iii) how can we protect the rights of the individual while supporting the interests of the State? And looking even further ahead, (iv) how should government and industry prepare for the next wave of innovation in artificial intelligence and the bioscience revolution it is enabling?
18. It is now my great pleasure to officially open this colloquium.