Artificial intelligence now decides who lives and dies

Let’s start with the uncomfortable truth. We have lost control of artificial intelligence.

This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering we likely never had any control over it. The maelstrom at OpenAI over the abrupt dismissal of its chief executive, Sam Altman, raised accountability questions inside one of the world’s most powerful AI companies. Yet even before that boardroom drama, our understanding of how AI is created and used was limited. 

Lawmakers worldwide are struggling to keep up with the pace of AI innovation and thus can’t provide basic frameworks of regulations and oversight. The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has raised the stakes even further. AI systems are currently being used to determine who lives and dies in Gaza. The results, as anyone can see, are terrifying. 

In a widespread investigation carried out by Israeli publication +972 Magazine, journalist Yuval Abraham spoke with several current and former officials about the Israeli military’s advanced AI war program called “The Gospel.”

According to the officials, The Gospel produces AI-generated targeting recommendations through “the rapid and automatic extraction of intelligence.” Recommendations are matched with identifications carried out by a human soldier. The system relies on a matrix of data points with checkered misidentification histories, such as facial recognition technology

The result is the production of “military” targets in Gaza at an astonishingly high rate. In previous Israeli operations, the military was slowed by a lack of targets because humans took time to identify targets and determine the potential of civilian casualties. The Gospel has sped up this process with dramatic effect. 

Thanks to The Gospel, Israeli fighter jets can’t keep up with the number of targets these automotive systems provide. The sheer gravity of the death toll over the past six weeks of fighting speaks to the deadly nature of this new technology of war.

According to Gaza officials, more than 17,000 people have been killed, including at least 6,000 children. Citing several reports, American journalist Nicholas Kristof said that “a woman or child has been killed on average about every seven minutes around the clock since the war began in Gaza.” 

“Look at the physical landscape of Gaza,” Richard Moyes, a researcher who heads Article 36, a group that campaigns to reduce harm from weapons, told The Guardian. “We’re seeing the widespread flattening of an urban area with heavy explosive weapons, so to claim there’s precision and narrowness of force being exerted is not borne out by the facts.”

Eyes on Gaza

Militaries around the world with similar AI capabilities are closely watching Israel’s assault on Gaza. The lessons learned in Gaza will be used to refine other AI platforms for use in future conflicts. The genie is out of the bottle. The automated war of the future will use computer programs to decide who lives and who dies. 

While Israel continues to pound Gaza with AI-directed missiles, governments and regulators worldwide need help to keep up with the pace of AI innovation taking place in private companies. Lawmakers and regulators can’t keep up with the new programs and the programs being created.

The New York Times notes that “that gap has been compounded by an AI knowledge deficit in governments, labyrinthine bureaucracies, and fears that too many rules may inadvertently limit the technology’s benefits.”

The net result is that AI companies can develop with little or no oversight. This situation is so dramatic that we don’t even know what these companies are working on. 

Consider the fiasco over the management of OpenAI, the company behind the popular AI platform ChatGPT. When CEO Sam Altman was unexpectedly fired, the Internet rumor mill began fixating on unconfirmed reports that OpenAI had developed a secret and mighty AI that could change the world in unforeseen ways. Internal disagreement over its usage led to a leadership crisis at the company.

We might never know if this rumor is true, but given the trajectory of AI and the fact that we cannot understand what OpenAI is doing, it seems plausible. The general public and lawmakers can’t get a straight answer about the potential of a super-powerful AI platform, and that is the problem. 

Israel’s Gospel and the chaos at OpenAI mark a turning point in AI. It’s time to move beyond the hollow elevator pitches that AI will deliver a brave new world.

AI might help humanity achieve new goals, but it won’t be a force for good if it is developed in the shadows and used to kill people on battlefields. Regulators and lawmakers can’t keep up with the pace of the technology and don’t have the tools to practice sound oversight. 

While powerful governments around the world watch Israel test AI algorithms on Palestinians, we can’t harbor false hopes that this technology will only be used for good. Given the failure of our regulators to establish guardrails on the technology, we can hope that the narrow interests of consumer capitalism will serve as a governor on the true reach of AI to transform society.

It’s a vain hope, but it is likely all we have at this stage.

This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.

Continue Reading

How Shohei Ohtani became Japan's biggest baseball export

Shohei Ohtani poses for a photo with his dog prior to the announcement Ohtani winning the 2023 American League Most Valuable Player Award.Getty Images

Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani has made history by signing a record-breaking $700m (£558m) contract with the LA Dodgers.

His recent elbow surgery did not stop the Dodgers from offering the eye-watering 10-year deal – smashing Mike Trout’s $426.5m 12-deal contract signed in 2019, previously the largest in Major League Baseball (MLB).

The 29-year-old superstar, nicknamed “Shotime” has been described as the “best player ever” and is often referred to as “unicorn”. He has previously drawn comparisons to Babe Ruth for his ability to pitch and hit in the same game.

Last month, he was voted the most valuable player for the second time since 2021. What is unique about the achievements is that he received unanimous votes on both occasions and that is a first in MLB history.

Ohtani’s professional baseball career began at the age of 18 with Japan’s Nippon Ham Fighters under manager, Hideki Kuriyama. The pair were recently reunited with when Kuriyama managed Japan to victory in the World Baseball Classic championship.

And his global fame has already surpassed that of other Japanese players who moved to the US before him, including Ichiro Suzuki, Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui, Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka.

In addition to Ohtani’s baseball skills, his clean-cut image and a lack of scandals and tabloid gossip about his social life, have turned him into a brand advertisers and marketers are clamouring for.

But the baseball prodigy is known to be extremely picky about activities outside the sport as he does not want any distraction from his first love.

“Ohtani doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke and doesn’t care about money, which is part of his unique charm,” says Robert Whiting who has written several books on Japanese baseball.

“In a game in which so many seem consumed by greed and entitlement, he is a purist – a warrior monk – who only cares about becoming the best baseball player in history.”

This is evident from when Ohtani left Japan for the US in 2017 at the age of 23 and he signed a six-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels for $545,000 a year when he was estimated to have been worth more than $200m.

The shortfall can also be attributed to MLB’s rules under which an incoming international player under the age of 25 is only eligible for the league’s minimum salary.

Shohei Ohtani


But the money has been following Ohtani. His endorsement portfolio has grown from $6m in 2021 to at least $35m this year, according to Forbes. Add that to his salary and he is estimated to have raked in around $65m in earnings for the 2023 season, which would be another MLB record.

It is also felt in merchandise and ticket sales, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue every year for his team.

Economist Katsuhiro Miyamoto of Kansai University estimates Ohtani’s economic impact for the 2023 season to be 50.4bn yen ($342m; £272m) which include 1.2bn yen spent by Japanese visitors who would travel to the US to watch his games. Japanese firms are also estimated to have spent 1bn yen to advertise at Angel Stadium.

“For an individual athlete to generate this level of economic impact is unheard of,” said Prof Miyamoto, adding that it is equivalent to when a popular Japanese baseball team wins the Japan Series.

Shohei Ohtani leads his teammates onto the field while carrying the Japanese flag prior to the game against the United States.

Getty Images

Japan’s hidden export gem, top baseball players, have been settling into the US turf for almost 30 years.

In 1995, Hideo Nomo – nicknamed “Tornado” – became the first Japanese player to join an MLB team.

This was before smartphones were widely available, and due to the time difference, his fans in Japan would gather in front of big screens in public spaces to watch him play.

At the time, US stadiums inexplicably, were not allowing Japanese language advertisements on their billboards. But that has changed after more Japanese players arrived.

The US stakeholders became more aware of how Japanese companies are willing to spend big bucks to introduce their labels and goods to consumers in the world’s biggest economy. The advertisers were also keen to be seen as supporters of the sport to Japanese viewers.

But beyond the money, the baseball stars also helped transform ties between the US and Japan.

When Nomo joined the Los Angeles Dodgers, relations between the two countries were at their lowest point since World War Two, according to Mr Whiting.

“Japanese goods – like cameras, automobiles, and TV’s – had flooded North America and the rest of the world, creating a huge trade imbalance.”

In the mid-90s, in a somewhat similar tune to current trade tensions between the US and China, American lawmakers were not happy with the amount of Japanese imports.

Nomo, Mr Whiting recalls the New York Times writing at the time, was the only export from Japan that no one in America was complaining about.

These days, ties between the US and Japan are much warmer but what has made Ohtani more popular among his teammates and fan base in America is his humble attitude.

Shohei Ohtani


As MLB has welcomed Japan’s top baseball players, the loser appears to be Japan’s domestic baseball league, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).

Mr Whiting says NPB only has itself to blame.

“Unlike the US where it is a business operation to run a baseball team, Japanese companies buy a team to advertise themselves and they don’t use the extra money to reinvest in the teams,” he says.

In the 1990s, the gross revenue of Japanese baseball was about the same as the US. Now, MLB boasts $10bn total gross revenue compared to NPB’s less than $2bn.

Much of MLB’s success can be attributed to aggressive marketing through expanding sales of media rights, merchandising, sponsorships and the creation of new multi-faceted stadium complexes.

Competition is only getting tougher for future Japanese players in MLB.

On the opening day of the 2023 season 28.5% of the MLB’s top players were born outside of the US, led by stars from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba

But Ohtani has broken so many records still early in his career.

And his first pro manager, Hideki Kuriyama, who oversaw his development as a two-way player despite criticism, recently said he is confident Shotime will “continue to evolve and show us even more than he already has”.

This is why, with the promise of greater things to come, companies will want to piggyback on Ohtani’s success and Japanese fans will be willing to travel to the US to pack the stadiums to watch him in action.

Related Topics

Continue Reading

Tripling Singapore's AI workforce to 15,000 not just about numbers, but 'talents and ideas': Experts

Some of the increase in AI workers that Singapore seeks will come from local universities. In 2020, the undergraduate intake for information and digital technologies degree courses was 3,100 across the country’s six autonomous universities, according to the Education Ministry.

But not all graduates will specialise in AI, leaving a gap likely to be filled by other sources, including continuing education and overseas workers.

An apprenticeship scheme by AI Singapore – the national programme to develop AI capabilities – will be redesigned as part of NAIS 2.0.

Close to 300 people have graduated from the apprenticeship since it started in 2018. About 90 per cent have gone on to become data scientists, machine learning operations engineers, AI engineers, software engineers and other roles.

AI Singapore said its graduates have between five to 15 years of experience, with diverse backgrounds in engineering, banking and finance, teaching, law and human resources. 

Still, given a worldwide scarcity, Singapore will have to present itself as an attractive destination for AI talent – and it does have some advantages in this area.

Assoc Prof Kan pointed to the country’s transparency, suitability as a testbed and interconnectivity. And speed of AI regulation and rollout can allow Singapore to serve as a role model for other countries facing more difficulties scaling up deployment, he said.

Mr Adrian Goh, co-founder of tech talent platform Nodeflair, said government support to foster tech trends and welcome innovation – as seen in cryptocurrency-friendly policies – has helped make Singapore attractive.

The country’s strong English proficiency also attracts global companies like FAANG – Meta (formerly Facebook), Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google – and Nvidia, while the high quality of life appeals to overseas AI talent.

Compared to the United States, where tech workers face challenges securing visas, Singapore has a streamlined employment pass system, Mr Goh added.

On the other hand, compared to Singapore, other countries in the region offer “cost-efficient growth options” with their emerging talent pools, he said.

Singapore’s software engineers have the highest median salaries among seven Asian economies, according to a recent Nodeflair report. The median salary for a lead software engineer was about S$6,600, versus S$2,400 in Malaysia and S$2,100 in Vietnam, which had the next highest salaries.

Dr Lily Phan, IDC’s research director for the future of work in the Asia-Pacific, also cited a lack of “AI-readiness” infrastructure, which was a limiting factor for 47 per cent of Singapore companies her market intelligence firm surveyed.

“It’s the combination of different factors to make AI really work: Strategy, infrastructure, skills, governance (regulatory framework), data and culture,” she said.

Continue Reading

PM appeals for better wage rate

Wage rise of by 2–16 baht ‘not enough’ for workers

Kanchanaburi: Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has promised to seek a revision on the tripartite wage committee’s decision to raise the daily minimum wage rate by between 2 and 16 baht across the country, saying he couldn’t agree with such a low hike.

The government has been implementing various measures aimed at shouldering the operating costs of businesses, including subsidising electricity in the manufacturing sector and capping diesel fuel prices for transport, he said.

Now the government has to ask these businesses to cooperate in raising the minimum wage with a more suitable rate for the tens of millions of workers in the country, he said.

In return for what the government had given them, it was now time for employers to give something back.

He would seek talks in coming weeks with the tripartite wage committee, a panel comprising officials from the Ministry of Labour, employers and employees.

The PM said if the committee’s decision to raise wages by only 2–16 baht is submitted to the cabinet for endorsement, he will reject it and call for a more suitable raise. “Should we really have to leave the minimum wages for Thai workers this ridiculously low, while Singapore, for one, offers a minimum wage of 1,000 baht a day?” he asked.

“Are we willing to let our workers be treated as if they were second- or third-class citizens of the world?” Mr Srettha added.

While inspecting government projects in Kanchanaburi yesterday, Mr Srettha was asked by reporters to elaborate on how he would push for a revision of the panel’s decision. He said he would not give a direct order to the committee to revise the decision, but instead discuss the matter with members to find a solution to the low-wage problem.

“Business operators and employers alike have benefited greatly from the government’s measures, and now it’s time for them to give back [by offering better wages] to the workforce, which is the most important mechanism in the manufacturing sector,” he said.

Mr Srettha said that in the southern border provinces, he has started to raise confidence among local business operators by securing deals with Malaysia.

The wage hike for workers in these provinces should be higher in return for those gains, he said, noting these workers will only receive a hike of 2–3 baht.

Asked what should be the proper minimum wage rate, Mr Srettha said the new rate must be agreed by all sides.

“The raise for the three southernmost provinces isn’t enough for even buying one egg,” he said, referring to a revised rate of 330 baht per day from 328 baht.

When asked whether he would push for a wage rate of 400 baht per day across the board as promised during the election season, the PM said it may be suitable for some provinces.

When asked if he was concerned if the government’s push would end up driving away businesses to another country, Mr Srettha said the notion is more of a threat rather than a possibility.

“No, no one would ever move away simply because the minimum daily wage is raised from 300 baht to 400 baht, especially while the government continues offering more benefits including tax privileges,” he said.

Now that Thailand has won against Singapore in terms of its ability to attract major companies to set up data centres here, Thai workers should be paid better wages.

“I’m not saying this because I am trying to please the voters. The election campaign ended a long while ago,” he said.

“What’s happening now is the reality in which living conditions of the people need to be improved and be taken care of along with the government’s economic stimulation efforts,” he said.

Continue Reading

South Korea plunging deeper into sub export markets

South Korea aims to crank up its weaponry shipments with a new type of submarine with the potential to give small and mid-sized navies in the Pacific an asymmetric edge in underwater warfare.

This month, Naval News reported that South Korea’s HD Hyundai Heavy Industries (HD HHI) is developing an indigenous mid-size submarine for export markets. South Korea’s submarine market is mainly divided between HD HHI and Hanwha Ocean (previously DSME).

The report notes that Dr Won-Ho Joo, chief operating officer of HD HHI’s Naval & Special Ship Business Unit, made the announcement. He emphasized the importance of collaboration between HD HHI and Hanwha Ocean to enhance competitiveness in international bidding and shipbuilding, the Naval News report quoted him as saying.

The report also mentions Hanwha Ocean’s commitment to working with over 200 domestic partner companies for submarine procurement and future maintenance projects.

Naval News mentions that HD HHI is planning to participate in the Canadian Patrol Submarine Project (CPSP) and has signed a technical cooperation agreement with Babcock Canada. It has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Polish National Defense company PGZ for Poland’s Orka Project, the nation’s submarine program.

South Korea has previously sold submarines to foreign nations. Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) mentions that in 2011, South Korea outbid Russia, France and Germany on a US$1.1 billion contract to supply Indonesia with three Type 209-class submarines.

NTI notes that the first two submarines, the KRI Nagapasa and KRI Ardadedali, were delivered to Indonesia in 2017 and 2018, while the third submarine, KRI Alugoro, was assembled by PT PAL in Indonesia with South Korean support as part of a technology-sharing program.

However, Asia Times noted in March 2022 that Indonesia is reportedly not satisfied with the performance of its South Korean-built submarines, citing power supply problems connected to the batteries, among other technical issues.

Reports indicate South Korea continues to improve its submarines, producing cutting-edge designs that may have already addressed the problems with its earlier models.

In a 2019 article for the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Richard Bitzinger notes that South Korea began building submarines in the 1990s with the KSS-1, which were license-produced German Type 209-class units, producing nine such vessels.

Bitzinger says the KSS-1 was followed by the KSS-2, a licensed German Type 214 class version. He notes that the KSS-2 was a significant upgrade over the KSS-1, which is larger, heavier and, most importantly, runs on air-independent propulsion (AIP) technology. Nine KSS-2s were built between 2006 and 2017.

The KSS-2 was followed up by the KSS-3, one of the biggest conventional submarines at 3,000 tons, making it capable of blue-water operations. Bitzinger notes that the class is heavily armed with traditional torpedo tubes and a six-silo vertical launch system (VLS) for anti-ship, cruise and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).

The KSS-3 is the world’s first AIP submarine capable of launching SLBMs. Bitzinger says later versions of the submarine may have a 10-silo VLS for SLBMs.

Currently, South Korea has 2 KSS-3 submarines, with plans to have nine units. South Korea’s new mid-size export submarine would likely be a variant of the KSS-3, with each unit designed according to technology export restrictions and customer specifications.

South Korea, a major emerging arms exporter, is well-poised to be a major player in emerging submarine markets, most notably in nearby Southeast Asia.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), South Korea was the world’s 9th largest arms exporter in 2022, accounting for 2.4% of global arms exports, with most of its sales going to the Philippines, India, and Thailand.

SIPRI data indicates a massive leap in South Korean arms exports between 2013 and 2017 and between 2018 and 2022, showing a 74% increase between the two five-year periods.

Submarines are high on Southeast Asian nations’ military wish lists, driven largely by fears about China’s increasing naval might in the South China Sea. Regional nations are also engaged in low-level arms races where neighbors seek to keep pace with each other’s arsenals.   

In July 2023, Defense News reported that Singapore received the first of four German-built Type 218SG submarines to replace its aging Archer and Challenger-class units. Defense News notes that the Type 218SG is specially designed for tropical waters and possesses state-of-the-art capabilities, significant payload capacity, high levels of automation, enhanced underwater endurance and optimized ergonomics.

Naval News reported in June 2023 that major shipbuilders such as France’s Naval Group, Spain’s Navantia and Hanwha Ocean have offered the Philippines various submarine deals as the latter struggles to modernize its military amidst increased Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

However, given its overreliance on the US and limited defense budget, it is unclear if the Philippines has the political will and resources to pursue its longstanding submarine ambitions.

Asia Times reported in May 2023 that Indonesia had selected France over South Korea as its submarine program’s leading partner. Indonesia plans to acquire two Scorpene-class submarines with a preliminary agreement between PT PAL and Naval Group to collaborate on building two units and establish a joint research and development facility.

Indonesia views submarines as an asymmetric power projection asset, as it does not have the resources to build a blue-water navy.

The New Straits Times reported in February 2023 that Malaysia plans to acquire two more submarines in addition to the two Scorpene-class units it already operates.

New Straits Times says that the first submarine will be acquired between 2031 and 2035 and the second between 2036 and 2040. The report notes that Malaysia views submarines as strategic assets as they are involved in the sensitive South China Sea disputes.

As for China, NTI notes that as of March 2023 China had 56 submarines comprised of six nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) and 44 diesel-electric attack submarines (SSK), with 17 of the 44 vessels running on AIP technology.

Continue Reading

Taiwan deepens squeeze on chip tech leakage to China

Taiwan, citing national security reasons, has banned exports to mainland China of know-how and raw materials that can be used to make chips smaller than 14 nanometers.

Advanced chip-making technology is now one of 22 core technologies that Taiwan does not want Beijing to obtain, according to the island’s National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). 

The list, which covers the defense, aerospace, agricultural, semiconductor and cybersecurity sectors, took effect immediately after its announcement on Wednesday (December 6). 

“If people have the knowhow to make chips below 14nm, they can make many other chips,” Chen Kwo-liang, director general of the NSTC’s Department of Foresight and Innovation Policies said, citing the opinion of an official advisory board formed by industry experts and academics. 

Chen said Taiwan, taking cues from other countries, would control the exports of a list of items including chip-making equipment, gas and chemical products used in making chips below 14nm. 

In July, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry imposed export regulations on 23 types of advanced chip-making equipment and raw materials. 

“The announcement of a core technologies list is aimed at protecting Taiwanese firms’ commercial secrets. Anyone who steals these technologies or illegally exports them should be punished under the national security law,” Chen said. 

Last year, Taiwan passed an amendment to its national security law in which those who steal national core technologies for overseas “hostile forces” will face fixed-term imprisonment of between five to 12 years and fines of between NT$5 million (US$158,973) and NT$100 million. 

Taiwan also amended its Cross-Strait Act in 2022 to require its national engineers with core technological skills to apply for permits if they want to work for mainland Chinese firms but have not left their previous positions for three years. 

Liang Mong-song’s case

The NSTC said it spent a year creating the core technologies list and it will unveil another extended list around March or April 2024.

The latest announcement came after Huawei Technologies launched its Mate60 Pro smartphone, which used a 7nm processor made by the Shanghai-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC), in late August.

Technology experts said SMIC’s chief executive Liang Mong-song and his team could have made a breakthrough in the N+2 technology, which can make high-energy 7nm processors with deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography.

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s leading chip foundry, achieved the technology seven years earlier. Liang had worked for TSMC from 1992-2009.

TSMC is the world’s leading chip producer. Image: Twitter Screengrab / Digitimes

In October 2022, the United States banned American engineers from working for Chinese chip-makers, forcing them to choose between their jobs in China and their US nationality. But that rule did not affect Liang as he is Taiwanese.

Chinese commentators said if Liang is targeted with legal action by Taiwan, he can stay on the mainland for the rest of his life and be a hero in China’s chip sector. However, younger Taiwanese chip engineers may have to rethink their career plans due to the new core technologies list.

“As the US, Japan and South Korea have in recent years strengthened their laws to protect their strategic industries and core technologies, most Taiwanese companies agree that the Taiwanese government should follow suit,” Huang Chun-chien, director of the Mainland China Affairs Division under Taiwan’s Chinese National Federation of Industries, says in an article published by the United Daily News. 

“However, some Taiwanese companies are worried that they will face problems when relocating their core technicians to mainland China,” he says.

If Taiwan keeps expanding its core technologies list, fewer and fewer Taiwanese technicians will go to work on the mainland, making it difficult for the island’s companies to operate their businesses there, Huang said. 

He adds it will be bad for Taiwan in the long run if fewer Taiwanese technicians can participate in research and development projects in mainland China. Huang’s comments were cited by, or Reference News, and widely circulated in mainland China on Thursday and Friday. 

Wang Jin, an associate professor at China’s Northwest University, says in an article that China should not worry too much about Taiwan’s core technologies list.

China has its own defense, aerospace and semiconductor technologies and does not need to learn from Taiwan, he asserts. More technological blockages will only push China to achieve more breakthroughs, Wang said. 

Read: Raimondo calls out Nvidia for China shipments

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3

Continue Reading

Going on your first cruise? Here's what passengers should know to ensure smooth sailing


After you check your bag at the terminal, it may take several hours before it’s delivered to your stateroom. “Be sure to pack a carry-on with all of the essentials you might need during that window of time,” said Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of cruise news site Cruise Critic, who suggested including “medication, sunscreen, a bathing suit, a phone charger and other essentials that you’ll need as soon as you board.”


Popular onboard restaurants, shore excursions and spa treatments can fill up quickly so book ahead. Many companies will let you book in advance through their website or app, but if not, head to excursion and activity desks soon after you’ve boarded.

“The theatre productions are incredible and produced at a very high quality,” said Chris Thompson, an avid cruiser of 35 years based in London. “You can usually reserve a seat in advance for free, but if it’s booked up, try showing up 15 minutes before the start of the show when seats often become available.”

Thompson also suggested going to a specialty restaurant on the first night when there is likely to be more availability. “Most people eat in the main dining room while they settle in, so chances are you’ll find a nice table at one of the special restaurants,” he said.

Continue Reading

Commentary: Amid ever-rising premiums, let’s make it easier for no-claim individuals to switch private health insurers


What can be done?

Part of the answer, as always, is government supervision and action.

In fact, the insurance business is regulated and there are rules governing what they can do and to make sure they are financially sustainable.

Recently, the authorities named the four largest insurers here – AIA Singapore, Income Insurance, Prudential Assurance and Great Eastern Life – as companies that are too big to fail and would hence be subjected to more rigorous standards of supervision.

Like large banks, these insurers present a systemic risk to the economy if any of them were to collapse.

This is a good move that should help ensure these companies are sound and financially secure, now that big brother is watching them more closely.

The safeguards are mainly to protect the health of these companies, but who is there to look after the interests of customers?

Caveat emptor or let the buyer beware?

This cannot be applied to health insurance for one important reason: MediSave funds are allowed to be used to pay for premiums of MediShield Life and Integrated Shield Plans.  

As these are Government-mandated funds, the authorities have a responsibility to make sure they are used in a way that protects the public interest.

It means closer oversight of the premiums charged and what they cover.

The inability of customers to switch their plans to another company is a major issue. It penalises those stuck in companies that are not efficient or competitive leaving them with no recourse even if they are fit and healthy and have never made any claims.

What would happen if switching is allowed without losing coverage of pre-existing conditions?

This would be a godsend for customers but might be too much of a bitter pill for companies to swallow if they are suddenly deluged with high-risk cases.

It would be unfair to expect these companies to accept them without raising their premiums.

A better solution would be to allow portability for those who have not made any claims for a certain number of years.

This will lessen the risk for companies and encourage more people to stay healthy.

It is a more realistic and workable approach than the suggestion that has often been made to charge lower premiums for people who have not made any claims, as in the case of motor vehicle insurance.

The problem with this idea is that it will result in much higher premiums for those with medical problems.

Someone has to pay for the shortfall if premiums are lowered for the healthy and the burden will fall increasingly on the sick.

It is not right to inflict this penalty on people requiring medical treatment and those who suggest this should be careful what they wish for – you never know when you might require costly treatment.

Continue Reading

Srettha vows to improve education system amid poor scores

All past governments must take responsibility for the poor results of Thai students in recent international tests, according to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

His government, which took office three months ago, will strive to resolve the problem and improve the Thai education system, he said.

The prime minister was referring to the latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Pisa test that saw Thai students’ scores hit 20-year lows.

Thailand is one seven countries with an already deteriorating reading performance before the pandemic. That group also includes Costa Rica, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic and Sweden.

Mr Srettha said many people have criticised Thai education for its poor quality, particularly in terms of curriculum and teacher quality, but no one has taken serious action to fix it.

“More than a million children have been forced away from the education system due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We will have to help them return,” he said.

“Big companies should also help support Thai education.”

Siripong Angkasakulkiat, assistant spokesman for the Education Ministry, blamed the pandemic for lowering the performance of Thai students taking the test as they had been forced to study online and lost concentration when learning.

This has also affected their reading and critical thinking skills, he said.

He said most students with low scores were found to be studying in schools offering educational opportunities to children in the provinces, particularly those operating under the Office of the Basic Education Commission and local administrative organisations.

Meanwhile, the scores of students in some schools that focus on science achieved high scores, even higher than those of their peers in Singapore. As a result, the teaching models of these successful schools need to be applied to other schools in the country, Mr Siripong said.

Prof Sompong Jitradab, an education scholar, urged the premier to urgently resolve the education issues, especially for such subjects as English, mathematics and science.

“Unfortunately, the Education Ministry only concentrates on pushing learning about history and subjects related to civic duty. Why?” he asked.

He urged the government to take action to reform education, something that has been talked about for decades but never implemented.

The government needs to improve the learning environment for students in provincial schools to encourage young people there to attend class and avoid illicit drugs and other illegal activities as these problems may cause them to drop out, he said.

Continue Reading