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Are we trading freedom for simplicity?

In our relentless quest for progress, DBS Head of Innovation Bidyut Dumra believes humans will become more like machines.

Bidyut Dumra’s measurement for success is as simple as it is telling: “Over a year, how much did I learn and how much did I laugh?” This explains why he believes that a crisis, such as the one the world is in right now, should never be wasted. “We had an internal conference call and I was sharing how we should remain calm while walking people through past pandemics, wars and economic depressions, and talking about the innovations that have emerged despite, and perhaps even because of constraints. I think that, when we reflect upon this time, it will be looked on as more positive than negative,” says Dumra.

The eternal optimist and savvy conversationalist is the head of innovation at DBS Bank, his second-ever banking role – he was innovation head of ecosystems at the bank before this – in a journey that has seen him criss-cross several industries. Before DBS, he headed the Cathay Pacific Innovation Centre in Hong  Kong for two and a half years. He also co-founded Baebeeboo, a Hong Kong-based children’s clothing line, built Mind Blowing Films, an India- focused movie production company in 2009, and made a business selling mossariums (mini self-sustaining ecosystems) in glass jars.

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The one constant in Dumra’s multi-faceted career is his passion for optimisation and innovation – a quality that has enabled him to constantly come up with ideas others would have never even thought of. While at Cathay Pacific Airways, he and his team looked into how to help economy class passengers get better or more sleep during long-haul flights after finding that most would rate a journey higher if they spent the majority of it asleep. “So, how do we put people to sleep? We created an app that could measure your heart rate.

Then, we played music that matched the heart rate and slowly adjusted the beat of the music downwards. The heart rate follow the rhythm and, within six to seven minutes, we were putting people to sleep,” says. He’s applying the same unorthodox thinking now in the banking field and shares a running quip within the bank regarding the evolution of the DBS name. “We’ve gone from Development Bank of Singapore to what I like to call the Digital Bank of Singapore. So, the next stage is to become the Disappearing Bank of Singapore,” says Dumra with a chuckle.

(Related: Perspective: The New Normal)

Essentially, the multi-hyphenate envisions a world where banking becomes intuitive and invisible; a world where you’ll be banking without even realising that you’re doing so. Dumra wants to create a seamless customer journey. To do that, he’s always thinking about what the future will be like. In this future, Dumra envisions five thrusts – augmentation, enhanced living, interconnectivity, outer space and, surprisingly, the meaning of life. The first three concern the human experience. “Fifty years from now, I believe we will have the option to augment at birth, allowing generations to tailor those who come next. Also, our current biometrics ecosystem, with Face ID and the like, will become a microchip embedded in our skin.

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Bidyut Dumra, DBS Head of Innovation

Finally, I think all of us will have a digital halo surrounding us that will interact and connect with our surroundings, and recommend us things and experiences.” That said, Dumra is a tad worried about what this personalised digital experience would mean for privacy and free will. “I think we humans will possibly barter the freedom of choice for simplicity by relying on algorithms to make decisions for us. Never before have we had access to a million songs. Yet even though we are willing to go down that path of exploration, we want AI to choose that path for us.

So, I think there are going to be aspects of humanity that we will lose as we inadvertently teach machines to be more human, while we become less human because of machines.” Still, ever the optimist, Dumra believes that in the process, the search for the meaning of life will become even more profound and paramount, as humanity finally reaches the stars that we’ve long dreamt about.

From a personal standpoint, he is also excited about the possibility of alternate realities in the vein of the 2018 science fiction hit Ready Player One that’s set in a dystopian world where people seek to escape reality by living in a virtual reality universe. Unlike the film, however, Dumra believes that the ability to live multiple lives in different realms can be a massive game changer. It’s a vision that he admits is very, very far into the future, but it is bold concepts like these that have propelled Dumra to his current position in life.

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