The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is set to dramatically change how humans interact with technology, how we express ourselves, communicate and engage in a new world.
While the potential of transformative technologies – such as artificial intelligence, big data, automation, cryptocurrencies, or augmented, virtual and mixed realities – is immense, we face profound, multi-layered and multi-faceted changes that are radically reshaping how we live, work, do business, and how governments engage with citizens.
How will these changes impact on human rights, legal and moral matters; or on fundamental transformations in human consciousness and identity? What are the possibilities, the fears, the hopes and the realities for us ‘sentient beings’ and how will these technologies shape new economic, social and political orders?
And what does it all mean for South Africa?
To understand the nature and complexity of these developments, Telkom and three universities – Wits University, University of Johannesburg and Fort Hare University – have launched #SA4IR, a partnership to explore how the Fourth Industrial Revolution could shape the futures of South Africa.
The partnership will explore the impact of the 4IR on the Economy and the new Digital Economy; Higher Education and the Future of Work; Inequality; Citizens; Society and the State; and other critical factors.
“We need to train scholars to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century, some which we may not yet have encountered,” says Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal. “We need to work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to leapfrog across eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing to create a new world order that prioritises humanity before profits and power. We can’t stop the change, any more than we can stop the sun from setting, so let’s embrace it.”
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, adds: “The 4IR is changing our political, economic and social lives. Those who master the means and ways of the 4IR shall thrive. Those who fail to master this revolution shall be thrown into the dustbin of backwardness. We at UJ intent to lead this revolution for the benefit of our societies.”
Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, Fort Hare Vice-Chancellor and Principal, adds: “The 4IR is meant to be a game changer for South Africa’s current and future economic growth, for all imaginable sectors of human-activity and citizen-centricity. Based on its core design principles (Interoperability, Information Transparency, Technical Assistance and Decentralised Decisions), the human-sphere will have a highly inter-correlated and technology-dependant environment for solving daily challenges of human-activity by breaking our limitations on technical, social and digital information processing. Apart from its anticipated benefits for humans, we further need to be cognisant of the things that may go wrong, such jobs losses, negative impact on human rights, and even loss of life. Thus, as public institutions, we need to train the next generation of highly skilled experts and leaders to assist us to harness the potential that this revolution is going to deliver.”
“The 4IR is transforming the world economy and dialogue around its implementation is imperative to ensure South Africa’s future economic participation,” says Mr Sipho Maseko, CEO of Telkom SA Ltd. “When we consider the 4IR, it’s important that we are also cognisant that our decision are narrowing the current digital divide. Lowering the cost of access to broadband will be an important way that marginalised groups can gain access to the economy of the future.”
Ultimately, it is envisaged that a national action plan – SA4IR – will be formulated.