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Unpacking the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ by World Economic Forum founder, Klaus Schwab

In an age where our every action can be harvested as data and used against us, VC’s recommended book ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ by Klaus Schwab makes crucial reading.

The Vice-Chancellor & Principal Prof Tshilidzi Marwala at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), hosted a gathering of his book club on Monday, 03 June 2019 and delved into how technology is changing everything. The fourth industrial revolution, according to World Economic Forum founder and Executive Chairman, Klaus Schwab is more significant, and its ramifications more profound, than in any prior period of human history.

Schwab outlined in this influential book, the key technologies driving this revolution and discusses the major impacts expected on government, business, civil society and individuals. Schwab also offers bold ideas on how to harness these changes and shape a better future—one in which technology empowers people rather than replaces them; progress serves society rather than disrupts it; and in which innovators respect moral and ethical boundaries rather than cross them. We all have the opportunity to contribute to developing new frame­works that advance progress.

“One of the technologies driving the 4IR is artificial intelligence (AI). Because of AI, machines are gaining intelligence and thus one need not look hard to see how the incredible advances in AI, cryptocurrencies, biotechnologies, and the internet of things are transforming society in unprecedented ways. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution is just beginning,” said Prof Marwala. “And at a time of such tremendous uncertainty and such rapid change, Schwab’s book argues that it’s our actions as individuals and leaders that will determine the trajectory our future will take. We all have a responsibility – as citizens, businesses, and institutions – to work with the current of progress, not against it, to build a future that is ethical, inclusive, sustainable and prosperous.”

“In the 4IR era, some jobs will disappear, some will change and new types of jobs will be created. It is important that we as the presidential commission study these changes and design a strategy on how we should move forward. This should include the identification of the required set of skills in order to thrive in the 4IR, and the mechanisms in which the education sector should plan for the development of such skills,” said Prof Marwala.

Prof Marwala described the drivers of the 4IR as megatrends in three manifestations: physical, digital, and biological. He said these manifestations are giving rise to practical developments with tipping points that provide the context for the expected changes in global society. “As Data is the new goal, “The advent of 5G technologies and ICT networks signify the coming next wave of a globally connected Digital Society,” explained Prof Marwala.

In Prof Marwala’s view, this book is an obligatory food for thought especially for all those interested in exploring the future of human agency, human welfare, and human rights. “With the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), we’ve reached a moment in civilisation where human capabilities are set to change dramatically. Education is the bedrock of these capabilities, and as education providers, we cannot stand still. Our methods must keep pace with the developments in industry and society, so that human knowledge can keep up with the unprecedented speed of technological progress.

South Africa has created the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, chairs this commission and Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ’s Vice-Chancellor & Principal serves as the Deputy Chairman. The commission consists of 30 members.

Prof Marwala explained that this commission will explore the viability of strategies such as the introduction of universal basic income, virtual economic zones and imposing tax on robots in order to prevent the escalation of poverty and inequality.

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