4th Industrial Revolution should be people-centred: Ntombela

Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela yesterday said South Africa must take the lead on the continent in advancing technological innovations relating to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

“South Africa must take the lead to ensure that we collectively harness the opportunities and navigate the challenges brought about by the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Africa cannot be left behind. We cannot be left out,” Ntombela told a two-day 4th Industrial Revolution Summit at Pacofs. The meetings ends today.

Ntombela said to fully leverage on the 4IR, South Africa needs to make all digital strategies people-centered.

The Premier indicated government was aiming to turn around the economic fortunes of SA through digital technology beyond its paltry 0.8% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate.

She added the 4IR represents a fundamental change in the way we live, work and relate to one another.

“It is a new chapter in human development, enabled by extraordinary technology advances commensurate with those of the first, second and third industrial revolutions.”  

Ntombela added the 4IR was about more than just technology-driven change. “It is an opportunity to help everyone, including leaders, policy-makers and people from all income groups and nations, to harness converging technologies in order to create an inclusive, human-centered future.”

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said the real opportunity is to look beyond technology and find ways to give the greatest number of people the ability to positively impact their families, organisations and communities.

Ndabeni-Abrahams advised the country to brace itself for technological advancements and not fear losing jobs because of the 4IR.

“We want people to be able to relate to technologies and how they can change their lives. I will make sure people don’t lose their jobs and don’t miss out on technological advancements,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams, who was the keynote speaker.

She noted one of the responsibilities of her ministry was to create an enabling environment for the industry to make sure that the 20 million “unconnected” people in the country were connected to Wi-Fi.

“But even if we have all these technologies and connect everyone, do people understand how to participate in the space?” she asked.

She further pointed out that government, in collaboration with Wits University, conducted research on the digital skills gap in the country, which revealed that while most people were qualified, “digital illiteracy” posed a challenge to a productive workforce.

“We took a decision to put people at the top of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We admit we have not done much investing in skills. We applaud those who did not wait for the government to get apps and use them,” she said.

“We are about upskilling people and need them to understand that the industrial revolution is here to stay.”

The minister also told the summit South Africa has great potential beyond just its minerals and needs to be bold enough to harness its resources in the wake of the 4IR.

There was also need for an ecosystem of 4IR in “building a capable 4IR army” to respond to challenges regarding economic growth faced by the youth.

Ndabeni-Abrahams conceded that there was still plenty of work to do, especially from a skills development aspect, in order to put South Africans at the centre of the 4IR.

“We are one continent that is dominated by mostly young people who are unemployed… and most of the people are unconnected… That alone presents an opportunity for future opportunities through the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” she said.

She added it was important to ensure that South Africans are digitally skilled. “If our people are not skilled in terms of understanding the new era and how to thrive from it, we are going to miss out and be spectators again.”

The summit is being held under the theme: ‘Leveraging the Youth Dividend for the Economic Advancement of the Free State: The 4th Industrial Revolution Nexus.’

It features keynote speeches from internationally renowned researchers and industry practitioners working within the digital revolution space and presentations by academics from various higher education institutions across the country.  

Organiser said the summit seeks to bring together policymakers, administrators, industry leaders and practitioners, academics and other relevant stakeholders from within the Free State and beyond.

The meeting is expected to facilitate the development of a blueprint for the effective adoption and implementation of 4IR technologies towards the attainment of socio-economic advancement of the province. 

In furtherance to this, the conference is exploring ways to contribute towards increasing the levels of awareness concerning the usefulness and impact of 4IR technologies in stimulating economic growth within the Free State province.

It is also showcasing the various 4IR-related technologies and investment opportunities in the province whilst creating an interactive platform for various stakeholders, particularly youth, to engage with 4IR-solution providers and other service providers operating in the Free State and beyond.

Such interactions are expected to enhance a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among youth, leveraging on these 4IR technologies. 

The summit is focusing on 4IR technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Block chain, Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data Analytics, Cloud Computing, Robotics and Automation, 3D printing, as well as Sensor Networks.

It is also covering the future of mining, agriculture and agro-allied enterprises, tourism and hospitality, healthcare, manufacturing, waste management, construction and infrastructure procurement.

The other themes explored are; education and skills development, technology and human enhancement, entrepreneurship and innovation, smart cities, and security.

Dr Eden Coetzee from the University of the Free State told a media launch on Tuesday last week that about 26 departments at the institution were involved in research on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

By: Thapelo Molebatsi