Intellectual Property

Motivating Innovators: Employee’s Compensation System

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Malaysian scientists participating in a technology exhibition


Recently, we attended a talk by Dr. Joon Seok Lee, President, Korean Invention Promotion Association (KITA). The talk, Employee’s Patent Compensation System (EPCS) in Korea, was organized by Malaysian Association of Research Scientists (MARS). The EPCS has been a motivating factor for engineers and scientists in Korea to discover new innovations and allow their firms to commercialize these new innovations into world-beating marketable products.

We are all aware that Korea has become an advanced manufacturing nation with world-class companies. The EPCS,which was made a law, has a main objective to motivate employees who discover inventions to inform his/her companies (employers). In return the employers must decide whether to proceed with the registration of the patent and its commercialization.

Most major Korean companies have the EPCS in their human resources policies and compete for the best innovative staff and new graduates. A firm will establish a committee, comprising representatives of the firm and key employees to recommend the types of compensations to be given to employees who had developed an innovation that can be patented. Dr. Joon noted the compensations can be:

  1. Promotion
  2. Holidays
  3. Share of profits
  4. Monetary rewards
  5. Others

Other countries that estabished EPCS are Japan and Germany. In Japan, all large companies and about 80% of SMEs have EPCS as part of the companies’ human resource policies.

Impact on Innovation in Companies 

We asked Dr. Joon whether the EPCS has increased the capacity of Korean firms to innovate as employees are now more motivated to innovate. His answer was a clear Yes. In fact, many employees have received large compensations in the form of promotions and monetary rewards.

We all know that Germany, Japan and Korea have well-known manufacturing giants. These countries also have innovative SMEs with leading products in their market segments. Now we know the EPCS is one of their secret tools to motivate their scientists and engineers to develop new inventions, and, in the process, gain high rewards.

It is timely that Malaysian firms to introduce EPCS in their human resources policies. In Korea, companies that have established EPCS also enjoy government incentives in the form tax deduction.

In Malaysian universities and R&D institutions, engineers and scientists have been provided with incentives. Among the incentives include:

  1. A share in the licensing fee generated from the licensing of the technologies discovered.
  2. He/she is allowed to be a shareholder or director of the company formed to commercialize the technology.
  3. He/she can for a grant from a government company, Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC) to commercialize the technology.
  4. He/she can gain promotions.
Malaysian engineer standing with a colleague

We are not aware of incentives given by large Malaysian private companies to motivate their engineers and scientists to be more innovative besides getting promotions.

As countries such as Japan, Germany and South Korea had shown motivating their scientists and engineers to discover new innovations can strengthen their innovative capacities.

Jobs and Automation

Robots versus Conventional Vacuum Cleaners

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This article is one of a series of articles on how certain industries and products are upended by new entrants outside of the existing industries. This article will focus on vacuum cleaners which are now replaced by robots.

History of Vacuum Cleaners

Every house will have a vacuum cleaner which cleans dirt and dust from every corner and surface. Vacuuming a house is a major chore that my wife would like to avoid as we have seven cats living together with us.

Vacuum cleaners are electrical appliances that use an air pump to suck up dirt and dust from floors and other surfaces. The dust and dirt are collected in a bag that can be emptied later. As electrical appliances, vacuum cleaners are sold by well known companies such as Samsung, Philips, Panasonic and Electrolux.

The first technology that led to the development of vacuum cleaners occurred in Chicago in 1868 by Ives W. McGaffey. His first -hand held vacuum cleaner was manually-powered by cranking it while it was being pushed along. The first vacuum cleaner that resembled today’s vacuum cleaners was created in 1905 by Walter Griffiths. It was still a manual appliance. However, it was much smaller and portable, which made it easier for one person to operate it. The appliance consisted of a bellow that would suck dust into a removable pipe. The pipe would be cleaned for next use. It also had differently-shaped attachments so that a housewife could reach other areas of the house that needed cleaning.

In 1908, James Murray Sprangler was awarded a patent for his vacuum technology that involved a rotating brush coupled with an electric vacuuming machine. He sold his idea to the Hoover Harness and Leather Factory, a company based in North Canton, Ohio. It made several improvements and models on the idea.

The Story of Hoover Vacuum Cleaners

Like Colgate Palmolive in toothpaste, Hoover was synonymous with vacuum cleaners.The emerging car business was seriously threatening the future of horse collars. The owner of Hoover Harness and Leather Factory, William Henry Hoover, was looking to expand his company. On a hot summer day in 1908, Hoover met James Murray Sprangler on his front porch to discuss a cleaning contraption that Sprangler had sold to his cousin, who was also his wife.

Vacuum cleaners were a boon to sanitation and health in the early 1900s but they were cumbersome and required two people to operate. Sprangler was an aging, sometime inventor working as a janitor to clear his debts. He developed a portable cleaning device to minimize dust that rose from the carpets he cleaned every night.

Sprangler attached an electric fan motor atop a soap box and sealed the cracks with adhesive tape. A pillow case billowing out the back served as a dust bag. Hoover and his wife were both impressed with the new machine but not many homes then had electricity in 1908.

Hoover bought the patents anyway and started the Electric Suction Sweeper Company. He set aside a corner of his leather goods factory for the production of suction sweepers, turning six cleaners a day. James Sprangler, with his debts relieved, became Hoover’s superintendent of production.

The first Hoover advertisement appeared in the newspaper, The Saturday Evening Post, on 5th, December 1908. The ad described the simple premise of the suction sweeper: “A rapidly evolving brush loosens the dust which is sucked back into the dirt bag.” The ad went on to further state that “Repairs and adjustments are not necessary.” Finally, readers were offered a free ten-day trial at home.

Hundreds of housewives took Hoover up his offer. He shipped the suction sweepers through local dealers who received a commission if the cleaner was purchased. If not, the dealer could keep the vacuum cleaner for in-store demonstrations. Thus, he began the national network of loyal Hoover dealers in the US.

Hoover then organized an army of door-to-door demonstrators. The sales power of the skilled demonstration was Hoover’s secret weapon. No one could deny that his portable vacuum cleaner was effective and time-saving. Research and innovation followed. In 1926, Hoover patented an agitator bar which beat the carpet before brushing it. When he died in 1932, Hoover vacuum cleaners were established as the American Standard for cleaning. In 1952, the company introduced the “Hoover Constellation”. This model hovered above the floor as it cleaned the floor. This model is still found in many American.

Today this famous company is part of the appliance giant, Maytag Corporation.

The Entry of Robot into Household Cleaning

Cleaning a house of dirt and dust is such a chore that inventors are developing robots to replace housewives to operate vacuum cleaners. Enter the robotic vacuum cleaner, which was introduced in 2002. These robotic vacuum cleaners were small and roamed around the house, sucking up dust and dirt. Detectors helped these robotic vacuum cleaners avoid bumping into things. The most popular robotic vacuum cleaner is the Roomba, which is marketed by iRobot Corporation, a company based in Boston, USA. It was founded by three MIT graduates who designed robots for space exploration and military defense. The initial Roomba has been updated with new features to allow it to become an advanced robot that cleans the floor efficiently.

A robot cleaner

iRobot Corporation is late entrant to the vacuum cleaner industry, and it has overtaken the traditional appliance companies in the household cleaning sector. Although the robotic vacuum cleaners are more expensive than the conventional hand-held vacuum cleaners, they have innovative features that make floor cleaning a hassle-free activity. The robotic cleaners are expected to become cheaper and having more features as technical advances are made in mapping and navigation.

The robotic cleaning industry is upending a sector that has been dominated by the appliance industry. The traditional appliance companies are also introducing their own robotic cleaners. However, they need to acquire new know-how in advanced technologies such as navigation, mapping and artificial intelligence. At the same time, more robotic companies would be entering the household cleaning sector with more intelligent robots.


We would like to thank my DBA students, Dr Tamil, Dr Pang and Dr Justin, for providing initial information for this blog. (more…)

Malaysian Innovators

The Malaysian Innovators: H. N. Ridley

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       A rubber plantation in Malaysia


Today, not many people would know H. N. Ridley. As a Malaysian business and innovation historian,  I had studied the development of Malaysian major industries. I noted, in each industry, there was a notable industry champion. Of all the Malaysian industries, plantation rubber had the most economic impact on British Malaya (Malaysia before independence in 1957), and the development of the rubber plantation industry can be attributed to one individual, namely H. N. Ridley.

Many historians would agree that the economic foundation of British Malaysia in late 1800s and early 1900s was built on the plantation rubber industry. When the motorcar industry was emerging in Europe and US there was a huge demand for rubber latex to produce tires. Then, the supply of rubber latex, which was tapped from wild rubber trees in the Amazon jungle in South America, was not enough to meet the need of the fast growing tire producing companies.Thus, efforts were made to produce rubber latex under plantations. British planters were already planting coffee plants in large estates in British Malaya and Ceylon.British Malaya and Ceylon had the suitable climate for the rubber trees found in the Amazon jungle. In 1876, the British government of India assisted Henry Wickham to buy 70,000 seeds (at 10 Pounds per 100 rubber seeds). He chartered a ship, SS Amazons, to export the rubber seeds, with the goodwill and co-operation of the Brazilian government, to Kew Gardens in London, where 2,800 germinated. Most of the germinated seeds were sent to Ceylon, and a few to Singapore and Java.

In 1888, H. N. Ridley came to Singapore and was appointed the Director of the Singapore Botanic Garden. During his tenure of twenty three years, H. N. Ridley became a fervent champion of the rubber plantation industry and earned him the nickname, “Mad Ridley”. There were many challenges facing the early plantation rubber industry in the late 1800s. One of them was convincing the local British and Chinese planters to switch from coffee bushes to rubber trees. Another was to extract rubber latex from the rubber trees without damaging them. Ridley spent many years promoting rubber trees as a commercial crop. He gave away rubber seeds when he met the coffee planters. Notable planters who shared his vision included Tan Chay Yan and the  Kindersley brothers. These planters were the first group of planters who planted rubber trees on their estates. He also established a technique to harvest rubber latex without damaging the rubber trees.

Mr. Ridley and his assistant in front of the rubber tree in Singapore

By the early 1900s, the rubber plantation industry had significant areas planted with rubber trees. By 1910, British Malaya became an important rubber producer, riding on the rapid growth of the motorcar industry in Europe and US., and H. N. Ridley’s dream fulfilled. More important was that the rubber plantation industry opened vast areas in British Malaya where rubber trees were planted in large estates by British-owned companies. They obtained capital from the listing of their shares on the London Stock Exchange. Rubber trees were also planted by villagers in smallholdings. It seemed that everyone in British Malaya planted rubber trees, and every investor in London owned shares of rubber companies.

Lesson Learned

The emergence of the rubber plantation industry  showed the need of commitment and efforts of an  industry champion such as H. N. Ridley who believed in the potential of the rubber plantation industry. He also helped in solving the various technical problems facing the nascent rubber plantation industry.  Many industries also had such industry champions.

        Rubber latex flowing into a cup

British Malaya became a prominent producer of an important industrial material in the early 1900s. Now, Malaysia can again became an important producer of products that the world needs, but we need industry champions of the calibre of H. N. Ridley. He lived long enough to see the growth of the rubber industry when he passed away on 24th, October, 1956.

We hope new Malaysian industry champions will rise!!



Electric and Autonomous car

The Unintended Benefits of Driverless Car Technology

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Buy brewers. Buy distillers. Buy restaurant companies. This was the conclusion the other day from stock market analysts at Morgan Stanley, who predicted that the arrival of the era of driverless cars would trigger a significant pick-up in alcohol consumption.

Autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing technology will enable us to glug more than ever, the American investment bank’s analysts argued. There would be “more opportunities to drink before getting into the car” and “more opportunities to drink while in the car”.

For drivers, the hours of down time spent staying dry because of the tiresome business of twiddling the steering wheel would soon be over. That would free up another 600 billion hours of potential drinking opportunity a year, they calculated, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

Past crackdowns on drink-driving from Scotland to China to Colombia had all led to slowing demand, Morgan Stanley said. Ergo, we should expect a boost to demand once people are liberated from that constraint. Within ten years, consumers would buy $125 billion a year more alcohol than otherwise, they concluded, lurching from not unreasonable guesswork about future behaviour to over-precise forecasting (the second gin and tonic often has that effect). Average global alcohol consumption growth would accelerate from 2.2 per cent a year to 3 per cent.

We can question the many assumptions. Who’s to say we won’t use the freed-up time to read novels or do in-car yoga? We can laugh at the focus on boozing rather than the important prizes of cleaner air, less congestion, a reduction in the 3,500 per day toll of road deaths and a more slowly warming planet. And we can shake our heads at the bogus precision.

Yet financial markets are having to grapple with what automotive innovation will mean, not only for the car industry but also for the way we live our lives and spend our money.

Technology Shifts Facing the Car Industry  

Legal & General said last week that the twin technology shifts facing the car industry — electric cars and autonomous vehicles — represented the biggest change since Henry Ford pioneered assembly line working in 1913, slashing production costs and dramatically widening car ownership. Until now, the motor industry has not faced the existential shocks that have forced other sectors such as retailing, the music industry and newspapers, for example, to rethink strategy. It has made phenomenal strides since the Model T, but they have always been incremental. Now it is facing its own Kodak moment.

“Cars have the potential to become the next technology super-cycle,” according to L&G, changing behaviour in the next 20 years in the same, profound way that the smartphone has in the past ten.

For investors this kind of breathless prognostification raises as many concerns as opportunities, alongside considerable scepticism. The last “super-cycle” they were encouraged to buy into — an era of higher commodity and energy prices driven by insatiable Chinese demand — went bust in 2014. Many lost heavily backing oil explorers and miners.

Investment booms based on the promise of new technology are especially difficult to read. Some may rave about Google, Facebook and Apple. Others will recall the wreckage of crashed dotcom and telecom stocks in 2000-03.

To judge by the intensity of chatter in the equity markets, we are now getting close to peak automotive industry investing greed/fear/paranoia. Virtually every recent forecast for electric vehicle sales has been higher than the last. UBS has upped its prediction for 2025 output from nine million to 13 million to 15 million in the space of 18 months. The break-even date for when electric cars are expected to be produced as cheaply as those running on fossil fuels is constantly being brought forward as battery costs fall.

An eye-opening milestone was passed in April, when Tesla, Elon Musk’s lossmaking upstart, overtook General Motors as America’s biggest auto-maker by market value. Another symbolic moment came in July, when the British government proposed a ban on new sales of petrol and diesel cars from 2040.

There’s barely a week when regulators somewhere in the world aren’t announcing new rules to speed the push to electric, though these days this is driven more by worries about air quality than global warming. This weekend China said that it was conducting research into a ban on the internal combustion engine. This was significant because of paranoia among traditional carmakers that China, the biggest car market in the world, will leapfrog the west to auto-making dominance.

There’s barely been a week when the industry isn’t announcing a new electric model or boasting of some new breakthrough on the long, long journey to fully driverless vehicles. BMW last week announced 25 new electric models by 2025, while the Daimler-owned Mercedes Benz has promised ten by 2020. Jaguar Land Rover has said that all of its vehicles will be part-electrified from 2020.

For investors, this is not just about the choice between owning, say, newcomers like Tesla and Alphabet, the Google owner investing heavily in self-driving technology, or traditional carmakers, such as Volkswagen and Ford. The traditional incumbents are starting to look rather good value on conventional metrics. According to L&G, they now typically trade on only seven times’ profits, compared with a long-term average price/earnings ratio closer to 14.

It’s also about identifying second-order and third-order effects. Just as shovelmakers and brothels made more money than the prospectors in the 19th century gold rushes, so this seismic modern-day phenomenon is going to produce many surprise winners and losers. Morgan Stanley’s focus on drink may not be so potty after all.


Bio-Data of Dato’ Dr Anuar Md Nor

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Dato’ Dr. Anuar is founder of Bison Consulting. He has been involved in the commercialization of technologies and the assessment of new innovation.

Dato’ Dr. Anuar has developed expertise in the valuation of new ventures during his long involvement as a private equity manager and investment analyst in Malaysia and Silicon Valley, USA. He also gained theoretical knowledge in the assessment of new innovation and venture teaching as a professor at the Azman Hashim International Business School, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).

Dato’ Dr. Anuar has an engineering background as well as a business background. He has an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from University of Birmingham, England, an MBA degree from School of Management, University of Bradford, England, an MSC in Management of Technology from Alfred Sloan School of Management, MIT, Boston, USA, and PhD in Business Management, specializing in strategic management, from Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Shah Alam, Malaysia.

He is an author of three books, Securing Private Equity in Malaysia, The Palm Oil Multinationals from Malaysia and Role of Network Relationships in Internationalization Process. The last two books are available from


Space Race and Future of Corporation

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Co-Working Spaces

In a lobby of a Paris building the size of an Olympic swimming pool, workers huddle in discussion on tan-leather sofas, sheltered by an ornate geometric glass ceiling. Other sit at long wooden tables next to a winter garden, tapping away on laptops with the uniformity of typing pool.

This lavish set-up was once HQ of France’s largest nuclear company, Areva. As at June it has been a co-working space: the first Parisian outpost of WeWork, a company founded in 2010 by Israeli Adam Neumann.

Shared offices have come a long way from the rough-and-ready creative co-ops that sprang  the concept of “co-working”. Big names in commercial real estate have entered the sector, assuming the fun-professional design vernacular and adding a Germanic twist to their branding  (think “haus” rather than “house”).

Even Regus, the pioneer of the serviced office, has turned its hands to hot desks. The industry is longer a fringe. At its last investment round WeWork was deemed to be worth US$20 billion. Its service model includes IT support, 24-hour access and a programme of cultural events. And then  there is the community, or the “ecosystem”.

Gig Economy

The success of this type of co-working concept is indicative of a whole raft of economic, cultural and social changes. Propelled by technology, the “gig economy” is evolving rapidly. A recent survey by the McKinsey Global Institute found that 162 million people in Europe and the US (20 to 30 per cent of the working-age population) engage in some form of independent work. Since the financial crisis, swathes of the workforce have chosen (or been pushed towards) a more agile, self-starting approach  to earning a living. In the UK the level of self-employment increased from 3.8 million in 2008 to 4.6 million in 2015. For these people a job is no longer for life; there are no salaries, just income.

It is not the first time in history that the concept of work has shifted dramatically. “So much of how we structure our time, of what we now conceive of as work, was set up in the wake of the industrial revolution, “ says Andrew Scott, a professor of economics at the London Business School. He adds that the very notions of the office, the weekend, retirement and even leisure are relatively new inventions. Though the majority of us still had a conventional job, he says, the trend towards more flexible job is clear—and it is already having a fundamental effect. “We are seeing a configuration of time and space.”

The Future of the Corporation

Kathryn Myronuk, chair emeritus of finance and economics at the Silicon Valley-based Singularity University, thinks the slide towards flexible working is only at its infancy. ”Slightly into the future we will see decentralized management too, “ she says. “ The equivalent of a whole corporation might be brought together for a month to tackle a problem that might be less expensive and more nimble than the 20th-century model of corporations. In that case professions that today have certainty will  become more unpredictable.”

The career, the firm and the office have been pillars of our society for decades. How will we cope without them? And are the co-working spaces that have sprung up  a genuine attempt to grapple with the fundamental transformation of work as we know it—or opportunistic  real-estate experiments? With rental prices, some companies appear to be cashing in on a new fiscally vulnerable freelance demographic. Often they are simply selling desk space to sole operators who  can’t afford and might just be lonely.

Most economists are quick to point out the paradox of flexibility. For some it can be liberating, dynamic and lucrative; for others anxiety inducing and financially unstable. “ It is a bit like when the factory was introduced; we have to think about the human side of this, “ says Scott.  “This is just a massive social experiment we don’t yet know  the result of.”

Myronuk likens these shifts in working practices to “economic climate change” and calls for a similar risk-calculating approach to the uncertain outlook.

Members of Co-Working Spaces

There are companies that appear genuinely offer their members this vibrant community.  NeueHouse, opened a co-working space a few blocks from New York’s Madison Square park five years ago and quickly amassed  a members base drawing from the world of films, fashion, art and the media. Its second venture is the CBS Radio Building on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, where members have access to to re-purposed sound stages and recording studios.

Meanwhile, others are seeking to build a meaningful social dimension into this burgeoning sector. Communal workshops that give users access to high-tech machines such as 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC machines (as well as training to use them) are also changing the picture. “We are making tool available that were previously only accessed on the university campus, “ says Thomas Ermacora, a trained architect and urbanist who runs Machines Room in London’s East End, one of the estimated 1,400 makerspaces globally.

In many ways co-working is a counter-cultural phenomenon come of age. The sector is now the subject of debate at big real-estate conferences, and property scions are seeking to replicate some of the most dynamic co-working projects that really did spring from an urge to collaborate (rather than to make money). Many might find, like the best restaurants, that it is a personal, grass-roots approach that is needed. Rather like art clubs that charge too much for any real artists to be able to afford the fees, the bottom could quickly fall out of creative ecosystems.

The Future

Some people really do just want to a quiet space to go and work and there is an argument that this what libraries should provide. With some small design tweaks, public-owned reading rooms around the world could be re-purposed to give agile (office-less) workers a landing pad.

In every cace, though, it is clear that a desk and a foosball are not enough to ensure the co-working space survives as a business model., particularly as competition gathers pace.

The issue of where we will all work in the future is far from certain; governments, architects and developers should start planning in earnest for the advent of  a truly itinerant labour market. They need to plan for the unforeseeable.

Source: Sophie Grove. Space Race. MONOCLE November 2017, Issue 108.

Electric and Autonomous car

Petrol Stations Would Wither Due to Car Electric Revolution

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It was reported recently that Shell, the oil giant, had bought a company, New Motion, a Dutch firm with 30,000 private charging points at home and offices in Europe. This is an interesting development, and it indicates that the oil giants are contemplating a business life after oil.

             Profitable business selling petrol

The downstream sector, especially the retailing of petroleum products such as gasoline (petrol) and diesel, contributes a major proportion of the oil giants’ revenue. A small developing country like Malaysia has a large petroleum products retail market. The local oil giants such as Petronas, Petron and Shell enjoyed billions of RM from sales of petroleum products. The size of the petroleum products market was worth more than RM60 billion in 2014, based on the annual reports of the three companies. If sales of other smaller players like BP Petroleum and Caltex are included, the total market would be more than RM65 billion.

According to Petroleum Dealers Association of Malaysia, there are more than 3,500 petrol stations in Malaysia. As petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel are volatile and are subject to stringent safety requirements, dedicated petrol outlets are required. The first modern petrol station was established in 1913  in US.

Over the years, petrol stations have added products such as foods and drinks, and some bigger petrol stations have attached fast-food restaurants. The sales of petroleum products still make up the biggest proportion of sales of the oil giants, which result in enormous profit for them.

The Expected Withering of the Petrol Stations  

The entry of Shell into the electric car charging business shows that the oil giants are facing a major disruption to its retailing of petroleum products business sector. These petrol stations have made the oil giants into well-known brands and corporate power.

The electric car revolution would have a major impact on the long-term viability of the petrol stations as a business. Electric cars will be embraced by consumers, first in the developed countries, followed by developing countries. Car manufacturers and other companies are racing each other to develop electric cars with longer range. Many countries such as Netherlands are encouraging cities and electricity generating companies to install charging stations at housing estates, homes, hypermarkets car parks and elsewhere.

Impact of the Oil Giants’ Revenue in Malaysia

Although the penetration of electric cars in Malaysia is still small, the Malaysian government is committed by international treaties to reduce toxic emission from fossil fuels. In addition, the price of electric cars will continue to decline as innovative companies such as Tesla and Nissan are developing denser batteries at cheaper prices.

                Electric car being charged

The adoption of electric cars in Malaysia will be patchy initially. We foresee tax incentives may spur consumers to purchase electric cars due to various reasons, such as convenience of recharging and advanced features of electric cars such as self-driving.  We foresee there would be no turning back to the adoption of electric cars in Malaysia.

The impact to the oil giants’ revenue would also be significant. At the market worth of petroleum products of more than RM65 billion per annum, a tenth reduction of consumption of petrol would amount to RM6.5 billion of lost revenue per year. The amount of lost revenue would be serious with higher adoption of electric cars. Tax revenue to the Malaysian government will also reduce as tax forms a major component of the price of petrol.

Shell believes that consumers will patronize its petrol stations to charge their electric cars. Currently, consumers have no choice but to go to petrol stations to fill-up petrol into their cars.

We expect that charging stations will be available in all sorts of locations as long as there is supply of electricity. Why should consumers go to a Shell petrol station to charge their electric cars when they can do it at homes?

Could we see the slow death of the ubiquitous petrol stations with the large logos of the oil giants standing high and can be seen from far?

Jobs and Automation

Automation and Jobs

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               Less Computerizable

Automation and Jobs

A report by Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford (The Report), has examined the susceptibility of jobs to computerization. The impact of computerisation on jobs (labour market) is well-established.  It is documented that there will be a decline in routine -intensive occupations, that is, occupations mainly consisting of task following well-defined procedures that can easily be performed by sophisticated algorithms.

At the same time, with falling prices of computers, problem-solving skills are becoming productive, which explains substantial employment growth in occupations involving cognitive tasks where skilled labour has a comparative advantage. According to Brynjolfsson and McAfee (2011), technological innovation is still increasing with more sophisticated technologies disrupting labour by making workers and employees redundant.

According to Autor, et al. (2003) workplace tasks can be categorized as follows:

  1. Routine versus non-routines tasks, and
  2. Manual versus cognitive tasks.

In short, routine tasks are defined as tasks that follow explicit rules that can be accomplished by machines while, while non-routine tasks are not sufficiently well understood in computer codes. Each of these task categories can, in turn, be of either manual or cognitive in nature, that is, they relate to physical labour or knowledge work.

Perception and Manipulation Tasks

Robots are still unable to match the depth and breadth of human perception. While basic geometric identification is reasonably mature, enabled by the rapid development of sophisticated sensors and lasers, significant challenges remain for more complex perception tasks, such as identifying objects and their properties in a cluttered field of view. As such, tasks that relate to an unstructured work environment can make jobs less susceptible to computerisation.  The difficulty of perception has ramifications for manipulation tasks. This is, in particular, the handling of irregular objects, for which robots are yet to reach human level of aptitude.

A related challenge is failure recovery, that is, identifying and rectifying the mistakes of the robot when it has, for example, dropped an object. Manipulation is also limited by the difficulties of planning out the sequence of actions required to move an object form one place to another.

The main challenges to robotic computerization, perception and manipulation, thus largely remain and are unlikely to be fully resolved in the next decade or two.

              Prone to computerization

Creative and Intelligence Tasks

The psychological processes underlying human creativity are difficult to specify. According to Borden (2003), creativity is the ability to come up with ideas or artifacts that are novel and valuable. Ideas, in a broader sense, include concepts, poems, musical compositions, scientific theories, cooking recipes and jokes, whereas artifacts are objects such as paintings, sculptures, machinery and pottery. One process of creating ideas (and similarly artifacts) involves making unfamiliar combinations of familiar ideas, requiring a rich store of knowledge. The challenge here is to find some reliable means of arriving at combinations that “make sense.”

It seems unlikely that occupations requiring a high degree of creative intelligence will be automated in the next decades.

Social Intelligence Tasks

Human social intelligence is important in a wide range of work tasks, such as those involving negotiations, persuasion and care. While algorithms and robots can reproduce some aspects of human social interaction, the real-time recognition of natural human emotion remains a challenging problem, and the ability to respond intelligently to such inputs is even more difficult. Even simplified versions of typical social tasks prove difficult for computers, as is the case in which social interaction is reduced to pure text.

The authors of the Oxford Martin School’s report noted that while sophisticated algorithms and development in MR, building upon big data now allow many non-routine tasks to be automated, occupations that involve complex perception and manipulation tasks, creative intelligence tasks, and social intelligence tasks are unlikely to be substituted by computer capital over the next decades or two.

The probability of an occupation being automated can thus be described as a function of these task characteristics.

Measuring Impact of Computerisation

The Report, using 702 detailed occupation information of the US Labour Department’s Standard Occupation Classification (SOC), has developed a model to measure the impact of computerization of various types of occupations.

Table 1 shows the top 20 occupations that are least-computerisable , while Table 2 shows the top 20 occupations that are most-computerisable.

Table 1: Top 20 Least-Computerisable

Rank Probability SOC Code Occupation
1 0.0028 29-1125 Recreational Therapists
2 0.003 49-1011 First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers and Repairers
3 0.003 11-9161 Emergency Management Directors
4 0.0031 21-1023 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
5 0.0033 29-1181 Audiologists
6 0.0035 29-1122 Occupational Therapists
7 0.0035 29-2091 Orthotists and Prosthetists
8 0.0035 21-1022 Healthcare Social Workers
9 0.0036 29-1022 Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
10 0.0036 33-1011 First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers
11 0.0039 29-2031 Dietitians and Nutritionists
12 0.0039 11-9081 Lodging Managers
13 0.004 27-2032 Choreographers
 14 0.0041 41-9031 Sales Engineers
15 0.0042 29-1060 Physicians and Surgeons
16 0.0042 25-9031 Instructional Coordinators
17 0.0043 19-3039 Psychologists and, All Others
18 0.0044 33-1012 First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
19 0.0044 29-1021 Dentists, General
20 0.0044 25-2021 Elementary School Teachers


Table 2: Top 20 Most-Computerisable


Rank Probability SOC Code Occupation
1 0.99 41-9041 Telemarketers
2 0.99 23-2093 Title Examiners, Abstractors and Searchers
3 0.99 51-6051 Sewers Hand
4 0.99 15-2091 Mathematical Technicians
5 0.99 13-2053 Insurance Underwriters
6 0.99 49-9064 Watch Repairers
7 0.99 43-5011 Cargo and Freight Agents
8 0.99 13-2082 Tax Preparers
9 0.99 51-9151 Photographic Process Workers
10 0.99 43-4141 New Account Clerks
11 0.99 25-4031 Library Technicians
12 0.99 43-9021 Data Entry Keyers
13 0.98 51-2093 Timing Device Assemblers and Adjusters
14 0.98 43-9041 Insurance Claims and Policy Processing Clerks
15 0.98 43-4011 Brokerage Clerks
16 0.98 43-4151 Order Clerks
17 0.98 13-2072 Loan Officers
18 0.98 27-2023 Umpires, Referees and Other Sport Officials
19 0.98 43-3071 Tellers
20 0.98 51-9194 Etchers and Engravers


Please see the whole list of 702 occupations in Appendix of Oxford Martin School’s Report.


The Report’s main conclusions are as follows:

  1. It distinguishes high, medium and low risk occupations, depending on their probability of computerisation. It makes no attempt to estimate the number of jobs that will actually be automated, and focus on potential job automatability over some unspecified number of years.
  2. It predicts that most workers in transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are at risk.
  3. It provides evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relationship with the probability of computerization.
  4. It implies that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerization, that is, tasks requiring creative and social intelligence.                                                                    For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.



  1. Carl Benedict Frey, and Micheal A. Osborne (20130, The future employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation. Working Paper, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.
    1. Brynjolfsson and E. McAffe (2011). Race against the machine: How the digital revolution is accelerating innovation, driving productivity, and irreversibility transforming employment and economy. Digital Frontiers Press, Lexington, MA.
  2. A. Boden (2003). The creative mind: Myths and mechanisms. Routledge.
  3. Autor, F. Levy and R. J. Murnane (2003). The skill content of recent technological change: Am empirical exploration. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Vol. 118, no.4, pp. 1279-1333.
Electric and Autonomous car

Investors Bet Big on Lithium’s Electric Car Future

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World’s biggest producer of lithium


The recent Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2917 saw major car companies exhibited several models of electric cars. Subsequently, investors are piling-up their bets on mining companies that are involved in lithium, the key component for making batteries for electric cars. BlackRock, one of the largest fund managers in the world, has emerged as a investor of lithium start-ups.

The BlackRock World Mining  Trust, which has more than £800 million in assets and is co-managed by Evy Hambro, has become the largest shareholder in a handful of small mining companies aiming to produce lithium for use in batteries.

Demand for lithium has surged as the first mass market electric vehicles (EVs) such as the Tesla Model 3, Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet attract buyers. Growing demand for EVs has sparked a scramble to locate new supplies of lithium and prices have jumped about 26 per cent this year, making it one of the best performing commodities this year.

“Today the energy space is evolving towards a low carbon footprint and the combustion engine is going to be replaced with an alternative, “ Mr. Hambro said. “We want to be invested in companies that will be producing the raw materials that will be needed to meet this growth.”

Mr. Hambro is one of the world’s most influential mining investors, and his views are closely followed by the industry.

BlacRock’s investment parallels a growing investor interest in lithium as regulators push a transition to electric cars and battery costs continue to delcine. For example, assets in the Global X Lithium & Battery Tech exchange traded fund have quadrupled during  this year from US$114 million to $484 million, while the Solactive Global Lithium index, made up of 26 miners and battery makers, had delivered a total return of 51 per cent this year.

Lithium production is currently dominated by four large firms, Chile’s SQM, FMC, Albermarle and Tianqi Lithium. A number of smaller companies are racing to bring supply to market and get their materials  approved for use in batteries.

Over the past year around US$1.0 billion has been raised by lithium developers and explorers, but the funding will need to be increased to US$6.0 billion in 2025 to meet demand, according to Simon Moors of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence  in London, which tracks lithium prices.

A Boon for Sensor Makers   

Lithium producers are not only enjoying from electric car revolution. Sensor makers are also experiencing a boon. As electric cars become a reality, carmakers and their suppliers are confronting challenges that appeared less tangible when the dream of electric cars was a more  distant vision.

A self-driving car of the future will be quipped with at least 20 sensors using cameras, radar and lidar to “see” its surroundings.

Some of the data must be transmitted to the “cloud” so the car cam communicate with its surrounding, but programming the software to send only the relevant data is a central challenge, says Elmar Degenhart, chief executive of the parts supplier Continental.

He says a self-driving car collects raw data at a rate of up to 15 gigabytes per second. By comparison, a person watching Netflix in high definition at home would consume three gigabytes  of data per hour. “We need  a different kind of electronic architecture to handle these volumes of gigabytes, “ he says.

The energy just required to power these self-driving systems is so great that a prototype electric car with a 400 km range can drive only 200 km autonomously, notes Scott Gallett, vice-president of marketing for BorgWarner, a maker of propulsion systems.

Sensors in an autonomous car

“One of the things people don’t talk about is just how much energy is really required by by the computers, the sensors, the radars, “he says. “Some of the prototypes out right now require just as much as energy as it does to propel the vehicle.”

Mr. Gallett believes that hybrid vehicles—often considered as a stop-gap measure to full electric cars— will experience a lengthier phase  than many assume, because if autonomous technologies become popular  then cars driven solely by batteries might not have enough energy to power bith the car and the computing system.

“Don’t think autonomous  equals elecytric,” he adds.

Reference: FTWeekend 16 September/17 September 2017