Yeoh Siew Hoon
Yeoh Siew Hoon
The jokes started early this year. The first press release arrived with a headline that used words like "crowing" and "strutting" and phrases like "feather in our cap.

Yes, right after we have said hello to the new year, it was time to greet the fire rooster, who came flying in on Jan. 28, the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

There are many who said there couldn't be a more appropriate animal symbol for the year. After all, on Jan. 20, someone who resembles and has all the characteristics of a cockerel took office in a country he's determined to make great again and instantly set feathers flying.

"Is this a sign, you think?" my friend asked me. "Or a coincidence?" You see, this is a time of year when Chinese folks are on the lookout for signs that might foretell what fortunes await them, be it in their professional or personal lives.

The more committed ones consult geomancers to advise you on what colors or stones you need to wear to balance out the negative elements or if you need to change the direction of your desk in your office or your bed at home.

Most of us go online for astrological guidance these days. It's amazing how many fortunetelling sites there are that tell you what kind of year to expect, according to your animal zodiac sign.

"Have you seen the fortune for the snake?" a friend asked me over dinner recently. "It's really bad."

He's running a travel startup that's just 18 months old, so he's doubly vigilant over his fortune. Many are calling this the year when a lot of startups are going to crash and be roasted if they don't get eaten up first.

There were fire roosters everywhere as Chinese around the world greeted the Lunar New Year, which began on Jan. 28.
There were fire roosters everywhere as Chinese around the world greeted the Lunar New Year, which began on Jan. 28.

"Don't worry, the fire rooster is going to be chickens--t for everyone, including pigs," declared a porcine-sign friend. "I feel better already," said the snake to the pig, as he dove into his chili crabs.

I found myself wondering if geomancers and fortunetellers could be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). This is, after all, the hot topic of 2017: What jobs will be made obsolete by AI, the technology of which is maturing by leaps and bounds?

Even a lawyer I consulted about a copyright matter spent 20 minutes sharing his concern that his profession would be replaced by AI one day.

"Any job that relies on information gathering and interpretation can be done by robotics eventually," he said. "Doctors included."

What jobs will survive, I asked him since he had clearly spent time thinking about the subject, time I hope he's not billing me for.

"Chefs, writers, musicians, any job that requires a human spark and passion," he said. "Machines can't replace that." He has kids, so he's thinking about "persuading" them to get into the arts -- design, for example -- and psychology, because "we're always going to need thinkers."

Imagine, a lawyer dad wanting his kids to get into the arts, when in the past, doctors, lawyers and bankers were the go-to professions for parents in Asia. How things have changed.

He also spent 20 minutes telling me about an eventual doomsday scenario that would be brought about by the rise of machines, AI and Big Data. I don't know what is it about me, but I do tend to attract tangential conversations. I found myself wondering, too, if friends could also be replaced by AI.

A friend told me there's a voice device in Japan that you can personalize and give a name to, after which it becomes your house buddy. You tell it when you're coming home, what you want for dinner and I guess you could also share secrets with it if you wanted. Myself, I've asked a friend visiting San Francisco to buy me the Echo Dot so I don't have to talk to myself anymore. I really like this brave new world.

As I was walking out of the lawyer's office, which is in a shopping mall, I came across its Chinese New Year feature area, with giant signs proclaiming the fortunes of the 12 animal signs in the Chinese zodiac. It said that for me, this year will be fraught with obstacles, preserving my wealth will take an extra effort (there goes my plan to buy the Japanese virtual friend) and my love life will be hit-and-miss -- a bit like AI and fortunetelling, I guess.

I was curious, so I looked up the animal sign of the man who's ruffling feathers around the world. It turns out he's a dog, and according to one fortuneteller, it's going to be a pretty good year for those born in the year of the canine. One prediction caught my eye: "Do not lose your temper or the luck will be gone." Here's to all of us keeping cool heads and having a prosperous rooster year. Gong xi fa cai.

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