TECHNOLOGY Using the Fourth Industrial Revolution to navigate the tricky waters of a double whammy By Sello Mabotja _____________________ “We must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.” Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum ____________________ Credit: Justin Bautista on Unsplash 42 | www.opportunityonline.co.za The world is in the throes of a double whammy crisis: the raging Covid-19 pandemic and tepid growth in the economic realm. Disruptions create unpredictable circumstances where the traditional ways of doing things are rendered nugatory, with the result that a myriad “new normals” have emerged. To be effective, institutions ought to be in sync with the latest developments in order to harness the wave of disruption into a competitive advantage and as a trigger for innovation and creativity. Regulation is of critical significance as a paradigm shift needs to occur quickly. Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and writer of the ground-breaking and hugely influential The Fourth Industrial Revolution, notes that the architecture of governments has been shaken to its very foundations. “Governments are among the most impacted by this increasingly transient and evanescent nature of power. They are constrained by rival power centres including the transnational, provincial, local and even the individual. Micro-powers are now capable of constraining macro-powers such as national governments,” writes Schwab. According to Schwab, the return on investment in modern technology is more efficacy in terms of almost seamless service delivery and sustainable development on the part of those governments which holistically embrace and implement the fundamental practices of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). “Ultimately, it is the ability of governments to adapt that will determine their survival. If they embrace a world of exponentially disruptive change, and if they subject their structures to the levels of transparency and efficiency that can help them maintain their competitive edge, they will endure. In doing so, however, they will be completely transformed into much leaner and more efficient power cells, all within an environment of new and competing structures.” Schwab is credited with coining the term Fourth Industrial Revolution at one of the sessions of the World Economic Forum. South Africa and the 4IR South Africa is faced with accelerating the implementation of 4IR at the same time as mitigating the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, a litany of adverse factors combines on the local front to make the situation difficult. Among these are junk status, unemployment, the skills deficit, declining competitiveness and productivity as well as the inability to attract the requisite level of foreign direct investment (FDI). Against this background, President Cyril Ramaphosa established the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR) in 2019. The main aim of the recommendations of the PC4IR is to enable the country to fully take advantage of the opportunities which emerge. The priority areas include investment in human capital, the establishment of an Artificial Intelligence Institute, the establishment of a platform for advanced manufacturing and new materials, and making data available to serve as a vehicle to accelerate and promote innovation (eg free Wifi). Often referred to as “new oil”, data is increasingly occupying the epicentre of all 4IR rollout programmes.
TECHNOLOGY Other proposed interventions include incentivising industries for their application of 4IR technologies, building a resilient and sustainable 4IR infrastructure, reviewing, amending or creating relevant policy and legislation and the establishment of a 4IR Strategy Implementation Coordination Council in the Presidency. Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Deputy Chairperson of the PC4IR, points out that it is crucial to identify key areas in which we need to prepare ourselves with special emphasis on measures targeting young people. Professor Marwala has identified the five key areas as skills, infrastructure, regulatory frameworks, corporate and research incentives and technology. “We need to examine whether all these elements are optimised to help us thrive in a world increasingly driven by technology. It comes down to training, development, will and funding capacity,” he says. He notes that in some few pockets of excellence, impressive strides are being made in implementing the 4IR to the highest global standards but a huge percentage of the South African population remains at the periphery of these developments. “Covid-19 has thrust many of us into the heart of a 4IR world, and we need to close the gap for people who have not had the privilege of being able to take advantage of the quantum leaps we have taken.” The Commission has since completed its work. Its recommendations include the following: • Investment in human capacity. • Build infrastructure (hyperscale datacentres, fibre-optic networks). • Create platforms for citizen participation. • Establish a big data, analytics, blockchain and cybersecurity institute alongside an African AI Forum. • Own government strategic data and secure citizens’ data. • Incentivise future industries and applications of 4IR technologies. • Update legislation. These developments have prompted the private sector players to invest in innovations that will speed up the digital revolution. Some corporates, particularly in the cellular telephony sector through Vodacom and MTN, have made big strides. Commented Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer, Corporate Affairs for Vodacom Group, “South Africa is at the dawning of a digital revolution that will reshape the way we work, the way we live and the way we relate to each other. “This Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human. “Given where South Africa finds itself right now, there is a pressing need to forge increasingly meaningful partnerships to deepen and accelerate the impact of our collective programmes and help to move South Africa forward." One of these partnerships is “Grow with Google”, an initiative to help people obtain the digital skills they need to find a job. Course programmes are tailored for job-seekers and students, teachers, small business owners, developers and start-ups. An estimated three-million people have been trained through the programme to date, as part of its contribution to growing the digital So where does South Africa currently stand? Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, Professor of Electrical Engineering, former Chair of Systems Engineering at Wits University, Deputy-Chairperson of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR), author and one of the leading thinkers on Artificial Intelligence in South Africa. _________________ ____ “According to the benchmarking framework of the WEF (World Economic Forum), which assesses a country’s readiness for 4IR, South Africa is categorised as being in the nascent quadrant, indicating that it is just beginning to develop. "So where do we stand? Given what is happening globally, South Africa has indeed begun to develop its own 4IR strategy. However, whereas the approach common to so many other countries is based primarily on AI, the South African 4IR plan includes the third or digital industrial revolution because this is one revolution the state has not yet succeeded in building.” ____________________