Monday, June 1, 2020

Is Botswana ready to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

BY JOSEPH BALISE

Readily available literature on the topical subject of the fourth industrial revolution range from research essays by particularly Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum Klaus and other scholars offers a comprehensive analysis with particular emphasis on the challenges and opportunities inherent in the trending revolution.

Schwab is credited with coining the term ‘fourth industrial revolution’ describing it as “a world where individuals move between digital domains and offline reality with the use of connected technology to enable and manage their lives”.  The fourth industrial revolution involves computer generated product design and three dimensional (3D) printing, which can create solid objects by building up layers of materials.

In an online article published in March 2018 in the International Journal of Financial Research titled: The Industrial Revolution: Opportunities and Challenges”, the authors, Min Xu, Jeanne M. David and Suk Hi Kim underscores that the speed and measure of the changes coming about by the fourth industrial revolution are not to be ignored as they will bring about shifts in power, wealth and knowledge. The authors categorically emphasized that “only in being knowledgeable about these changes and the speed in which this is occurring can we ensure that advances in knowledge and technology reach and benefit all”.

It is acknowledged by the authors that the fourth industrial revolution is building on the third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. It is further observed that there three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the third industrial revolution but rather the arrival of a fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the fourth is evolving at an exponential rather linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance as illustrated by Schwab in a 2015 research essay titled: The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it means, how to respond”.

In his essay Shwab warns aptly that “we stand on the brink of technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society”.

What stands out to be learned and judiciously taken note by policy makers and economic planners the world over are opportunities and challenges that the fourth industrial revolution unleashes out. Leading researchers argue that fourth industrial revolution will shape the future through its impacts on government and businesses.

People have no control over either technology or the disruption that comes with the fourth industrial revolution. However, the researchers predict opportunities that will come with the fourth industrial revolution and categorizes them in lower barriers between inventors and markets, more active role for the artificial intelligence (AI), integration of different techniques and domains (fusion), improved quality of lives and the connected life (Internet).

OPPORTUNITIES

First, Chris Anderson predicts that the fourth industrial revolution is likely to reduce barriers between inventors and markets due to new technologies such 3D prototyping. The 3D printing technique fabricates scaffolds with a novel micro and macro-architecture and these in turn help shape the new tissue it generates.

Second, increasing trends in artificial intelligence point to significant economic disruptions in the coming years. Artificial systems that rationally solve complex problems pose a threat to many kinds of employment, but also offer new avenues to economic growth. A report by McKinsey & Company found that half of all existing work activities would be automated by currently existing technologies, thereby enabling companies to save billions of dollars and to create new type of jobs.

Third, innovative technologies will integrate different scientific and technical disciplines. Key forces will come together ‘’in a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between physical, digital and biological spheres” according to Schwab’s 2015 research essay on what the fourth industrial revolution means and how to respond in turn.

This fusion of technologies goes beyond mere combination. Fusion is more than complementary technology, because it creates new markets and new growth opportunities for each participant in the innovation. It blends incremental improvements from several (often previously separated) fields to create a product.

Fourth, robotics can and will change human lives in the future. Technically robots are automated motorized tools which do a lot of things ranging from cooking food to playing music and even recording shows further to running cars. Unfortunately there is no human face to whom we can talk or kick butt as illustrated by W. M. Tilden in his research essay on “Robotics Can ÔÇô And Will- Change Our lives In The Near Future”.

Fifth, the Internet of things (IoT) is the internetworking of physical devices. Typically, the IoT is expected to offer advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services that goes beyond machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and covers a variety of protocols, domains and applications according to J. Holler in his research essay titled: “From Machine-to-Machine to the Internet of Things: Introduction to a New Age of Intelligence”.

CHALLENGES

Another author on the subject of fourth industrial revolution Y. S. Jee in a research article titled: “Exercise rehabilitation in the fourth industrial revolution” warns that the evolution of global industries in the fourth industrial revolution is both exciting and scary. Jee explains that life will change with the 3D printing, the IoT, and the fusion of technologies. The fourth industrial revolution can raise income levels by allowing entrepreneurs to “run” with their new ideas. It will improve the quality of life for many people around the world according to Jee.

While there are many benefits of the fourth industrial revolution, there are several key challenges that lie ahead. At the same time, the revolution could yield greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labour markets. As automation substitutes for labour across the entire economy, the net displacement of workers by machines might exacerbate the gap between returns to capital and returns to labour. The scarcest and most valuable resource in an era driven by digital technologies will be neither ordinary labour nor ordinary capital; rather it will be those people who can create new ideas and innovations. In the future, talent, more than capital will represent the critical factor of production. People with ideas, not workers or investors, will be the scarcest resource.

In addition to the threat of massive job displacement under the ongoing fourth industrial revolution, there are a variety of challenges, such as cyber-security, hacking, risk assessment and others according to Lambert in an essay titled: “The Four Challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

The fourth industrial revolution calls for greater cyber-security. Companies will need to map their networks, assessing the risk and critical factors relating to security. Such an assessment should examine accessibility to systems, such as possible threats from internal sources, from disgruntled employees to internal human error, and external sources including hackers and cyber terrorists. Further, companies must assess risk and determine if these risks will be accepted, reduced, shared via insurance or other vehicles, or rejected.

The fourth industrial revolution is more than just technology-driven. Rather, it is powered with disruptive innovation to positively impact core industries and sectors, such as education, health and business

Disruptive innovations make its way into higher education in which it redefines the conventional way universities deliver their content to students. New modes of curriculum and teaching arise, and the focus changes from modes of teach to modes of learning. Alternative curriculums are being constantly developed.

Disruptive innovation also reshapes how businesses operate. Thinking has really moved outside of the box. New markets are created and new products defined. Lots of debates have arisen in genetic engineering about the use of tools and research technologies. On one hand, preventing genetic disease by genetic engineering is desirable. On the other hand, what guidelines, or regulation, or ethical boundaries should be established to prevent the over manipulation genetic for desirable traits?

Schwab argues that neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which humans have no control. “All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution, in the decisions we make on a daily basis as citizens, consumers and investors. We should thus grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Industrial revolution and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.