Issue 142, January 2015
The dynamics of e-business
World’s best business professor Prof Vijay Sethi shares his views on the evolution of information technology at the inaugural Distinguished Speaker Series

Participants at the inaugural Distinguished Speaker Series had the opportunity of hearing the 2013 world’s best business professor, Professor Vijay Sethi, speak about the dynamics of e-business. The session organised by the NTU Alumni Affairs Office was held on 20 January at NTU’s one-north campus and ​attended by some 250 alumni, students and guests.

In his presentation, the Nanyang Business School (NBS) professor shared his views on the different information technology trends and what one should be doing differently in this era of information technology evolution. He shared some examples of products becoming ‘smarter’ such as a smart thermostat and ‘in-ear wireless headphones’.

“We have even invented the driverless car, which can operate without human intervention. So as products become ‘smarter’, would that mean that humans are going to become redundant in ways we don’t even realise?” he posed the question to the audience.

Prof Sethi, who lectures in NBS’s Department of Information Technology and Operations Management, went on to give more examples of how machines were evolving to start to think like humans, and sometimes becoming even more intelligent. For example, the Watson supercomputer system by IBM was used in ‘Deep Blue’, the computer which defeated chess’ world champion Garry Kasparov. In October last year, the Singapore government also announced that it will look into using the Watson supercomputer to provide more personalised government services.

He also spoke about how the proliferation of smart machines is affecting numerous trends in social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. Citing the example of the very popular Gangnam Style video on YouTube which has garnered over 3.2 billion views to date, Prof Sethi explained how no one would have known about this video, if not for YouTube, and if not for people around the world sharing the video with their friends.

Prof Sethi also highlighted the importance of how the internet and social media world affects news providers. For example, in one report, it was stated “that ​The New York Times is winning at journalism, but is falling behind in a second critical area – the art and science of getting our journalism to readers.”

In terms of the role of education in today’s age of IT evolution, Prof Sethi highlighted an ongoing debate of how students should be educated today. “Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. He feels that educators look upon their bodies as a form of transport for their heads, a way of getting their heads to meetings,” Prof Sethi said. He believes that there is a different movement in education today, such as the increasing number of free online courses due to easy internet access for many today.​

Prof Sethi concluded that the key to growth is to race with the machines and not against them. “Although 15 years ago a computer defeated a chess grandmaster, today, neither a human nor a computer is the champion. Kasparov organised a freestyle tournament where teams of humans and computers could work together, and the winning team had no grandmaster, and it had no supercomputer.

“What they showed was that a team of humans and computers, working together, could beat any computer or any human working alone. Racing with the machine beats racing against the machine,” he said.

© Alumni Affairs Office