NST Leader: A new digital era?

The cabinet reshuffle could have just been a narrative of new blood with extra bite and strategic rearrangements of key senior people, except for the revolutionary split of the Communications and Digital Ministry.

That rather simplistic division — one for communications and the other for the digital portfolio — could prove to be a masterstroke, made-to-measure for this extraordinary era dominated by social media and now, artificial intelligence.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim underlined the huge interest in data centres and AI, focusing on boosting higher education comprehension of all things digital.

In a way, we bid "farewell" to the "new" old ministry, alluding to its pioneering years as the Information Ministry, of lorries and vans showing old Hollywood and propaganda films in villages where uppermost in our memory, the "Teman Setia Anda" glory days of the 1990s.

While the Communications Ministry may still retain its traditional practicalities, Anwar, in conceding to criticisms of its ineffectiveness, has moved decisively and innovatively to course-correct into a new frontier.

Picking the legally trained Gobind Singh Deo as the first "digital czar", Anwar can expect fast adaptation of the sea change in Malaysia's digital approbation. This was made easier after the nation was dragged 30 years ago into the Internet "rabbit hole", acculturating the world wide web and its "destructive" matrix as an instant catchphrase. Wholehearted digital embracement being a Malaysian forte, Internet penetration now is at an impressive 97 per cent. Which led to the inevitably new digital rabbit hole: a bold and blatant social media and its battering ram of influencers, and split-second information conveyance, where text, images, video and "deepfakes" mesh as one. The bad side effects? Ensnared to the vice grip of the smartphone's universally omnipresent apps, malcontent and personal data abuse are embedded into social media's addictive sovereignty to manipulate our impressionable young. It became the most distinctive platform for socio-political and cultural mis(dis)information.

Social media subverts norms, functional e-commerce infrastructure and young minions as inadvertent retail lab rats through subtle moulding of complex app algorithms that appeals to their desire while being detrimental to their mental and physical health. The unregulated social media nimbly combine social commerce and online retail that circumvents regular tax. Then, there's AI's rampaging double-edged sword, operating under this paradox: it streamlines business, saves time, curbs biases and handles automated tasks, but it also causes massive job losses and is void of human empathy and creativity. Businesses are going about in a maze in trying to adopt AI in their day-to-day operations, so insightful ministry guidance is needed. Bleeding local media houses want the government to emulate the new Australian law compelling a disgruntled Google and Facebook to actually pay media outlets under a royalty-styled system for news content posted on their digital platforms. The concept was earlier endorsed by the "old" ministry, but has since stalled. Gobind has his work cut out for him long before the spanking new Digital Ministry could set up shop.

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