Business, People, Treasury

From Abacus to Artificial Intelligence

May 02, 2019

When I was a young boy, I often marveled at the speed my grandpa did his calculations over the abacus. The furious clicking sounds of the wooden beads knocking against the sturdy wooden frame adds to the level of mystic over this ancient art and the aura over my loving grandfather. It was only when I was way older, and that my grandfather had passed away for a while, did I realised that he had been doing the books using the abacus and the sums involved were a good seven digits range. All these clicking and flipping of woodens beads, while recording the accounts with beautiful penmanship is remarkably amazing.

I think my late grandpa will be super duper proud if i could master either.

Needless to say, I never mastered the arcane arts of abacus counting. I did complete my school exams with an electronic Casio calculator. No sounds, just correct numbers. (I would think so…)

Later on in working life, Microsoft Excel was one of my best friends in the office. Pivot tables, formulas and macros are wonderful creations. You could type, drag, drop, formula thousands of rows of data, run referencing to different spreadsheets and create powerful insights into huge databases. I’m not exactly the best student during my statistics days in uni days, but i do get the kick out of developing a good spreadsheet.

Then came Artificial Intelligence (AI). I saw demonstrations of how AI is deployed to project future cashflow based on historic data and current data. The algorithms that are embedded in the programs, run multiple simulations with just a click of the button, and the most plausible outcome is shown. Of course, you could tinker and select the other less likely 135 outcomes and play with them. Fancy graphs, sexy user interface and live data streaming are all standard features.

In comparison, the trusty boxes and grids of Microsoft Excel look so boring and plain. Its like having to compare between a vroom vroom Lamborghini Aventador versus a comfortable Toyota Camry.  I take comfort that I do not have such real life predicaments - I cannot afford a Lamborghini. 🙂

Change is the only constant. 

Yesterday was May Day, Labor Day, International Workers’ Day. Most countries around the world designate 1st of May as a public holiday, celebrating and recognising the contributions of their labor force.

However, not all labor day are celebratory and peaceful.

In Singapore, many took the day off to pursue their personal interests, spend quality time with their family and lover ones, or spend a good 3 hours at the cinemas watching Marvel Endgame. (Can someone tell me how did the gems ended up in his hand?)

However, in many countries around the world, it was chaos and riots. Frustration, anger, dissolution, hopelessness and much cooped up negativity are vented by legions of protesters across many cities in multiple countries. Sometimes, they are peaceful marches, sometimes, they turn violent and destructive.

In his May day message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warns about the inevitable change that the current labor force are facing. He commented,

Today, the labour movement is at another turning point. Our external environment is changing rapidly. New jobs are being created even as old industries and jobs are phasing out. The future of work looks very different

As a member of the work force, his observation resonates and undeniably raises concerns and doubts. Can we adapt? Can we manage? Will we be made redundant?

In the history of mankind, we have always evolve. In general, we evolve for the better. Evolution requires change, change that improves the overall quality of life and things. Change is an inevitable process, but mankind has proven to be able to master this, overcome this and take advantage of it.

My grandfather, and most probably yours, were using abacus to do their sums. Way before their time, they probably relied on something else. In our time, we had calculators and computers. In our children’s time, they probably will have AI assisted programs and applications. We will manage.

What is more important is our psyche, our willingness to undertake change. We will have to learn and unlearn, relearn and remaster. In Singapore, there are many upgrading opportunities and available funding and grants. We are blessed to have so many choices and options. In my work, I’m pushing for constant learning and upgrading for my fellow colleagues. For my Corporate Treasury community, ACTS is busy crafting a solution for our younger members and aspiring professionals who wish to learn more about Corporate Treasury. 

There are solutions. Instead of feeling frustrated, angry and getting dissolute. Why not embrace change, give yourself a chance and you might be amazed at the results that will come.






about author

Seng Ti is currently heading a Treasury & Finance team in a MNC and is serving as the President of the Association of Corporate Treasury (Singapore) aka ACTS. He enjoys reading and discussing about current affairs, politics, life, wine and lives a normal life with his wife and 2 young kids.

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