22 April

Feature article: What does the Fourth Industrial Revolution mean to South Africans?

Year: 2018
By: Londiwe Nxumalo

The globe is moving towards an era of intensified artificial intelligence. The public and private sector need to collaborate on systems that would equip the youth and adults for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR/industry 4.0 and the 4th IR). The 4IR is an array of new technologies that link physical and cyber networks as one unit (Forbes Insight, 2018).

The Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Professor Klaus Schwab (2018), categorised the three components of 4IR as: Industrial Internet of Things (machines and other technologies that collect, share and act on data between themselves). The Big Data refers to the capture of data on everything and real time analysis of that data by machines and systems. Secure and reliable digital infrastructure connects everything together.

These disruptive technologies (a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry) will alter our daily routines. Consequently, all parties including the state, non-state actors and ordinary citizens must be responsive and adapt to the changes.

In the 1700s, the First Industrial Revolution used water and steam to mechanize agricultural production. In 1870, the Second Revolution used electric power to create mass production. During the early 20th century, the Third Revolution introduced electronics and information technology to automate production (Muntone, 2013). The 4IR is said to be moving at an exponential speed rather than a linear one. As Schwab (2016) states, this is due to the “velocity, scope and systems impact. The speed of the current breakthrough has no historical precedent.”

Generations born into the 3rd and 4th IR need to acquire advanced skills and knowledge because they are the beneficiaries of technological expansion. People born into the 1st and 2nd industrial revolution need to seek technological knowledge and skill to adapt in this technological age. So, how does one adapt in this environment?

Micromasters are series of graduate level courses that people take for credentials in a particular field. Their programs include “foundations of data science, computational introduction to computer science and programming, business analytics for data –driven decision, data science: R Basics, and computer forensics” (Dean, 2018). Furthermore, people can obtain a qualification and workplace experience which is in high demand (WEF, 2018). In SA, the Departments of Basic and Higher Education should impose a system that ensures that students from public and private schools acquire computational literacy.

Business leaders and senior executives should direct a portion of their capital towards training employees with limited skills or at high risk of unemployment. As Cassirer states, “we must see education through the lenses of both arts and sciences.” Ordinary citizens, young and old, need to adapt so they could produce their own devices and export them to other countries, allowing SA’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to expand and the labour market to absorb more people.