The Fourth Industrial Revolution is set to dramatically change how humans interact with technology, how we express ourselves, communicate and engage in a new world order. The potential to use technology to reshape and improve all aspects of our lives through artificial intelligence, big data and all other forms of transformative technologies is immense. At the same time, the use of mechanisation and artificial intelligence has the potential to vanquish jobs as we know it today and to deepen inequality in an already divided society. The issues related to human rights and the ethical, legal and moral matters pertaining to 'sentient beings' are worthy of exploration.
So what does this all mean for South Africa?
On Wednesday, 5 September 2018, Telkom and three universities – UJ, Wits and Fort Hare – launched #SA4IR – a partnership to explore how the Fourth Industrial Revolution could shape the future of South Africa.
The partnership will explore the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution 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.
Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal said: "The Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing our political, economic and social lives. Those who master the means and ways of the Fourth Industrial Revolution shall thrive. Those who fail to master this revolution shall be thrown into the dustbin of backwardness. We as UJ intend to lead this revolution for the benefit of our societies."
"We need to train scholars to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century, some which we may not yet have encountered," added Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal. "We need to work across sectors to develop the tech 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."
"The 4IR is transforming the world economy and dialogue around its implementation is imperative to ensure South Africa's future economic participation," said Mr Sipho Maseko, CEO of Telkom SA Ltd. "When we consider the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it's important that we are also cognisant
of the most vulnerable workers and act to mitigate their plight. 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 within the next six months.