South Africa must create ecosystems that foster entrepreneurial activity and multistakeholder collaboration, while furthering innovation and education in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) fields, if it is going to benefit from opportunities that result from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum (WEF) executive chairperson Professor Klaus Schwab said on Thursday.
In a keynote address at the sixth Emerging Researchers Symposium – a yearly event hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in Pretoria – he noted that the Fourth Industrial Revolution entails, “more than just digitisation . . . more than just digitising the means of production . . . it is a fusion of the physical, digital and biological worlds.”
Schwab pointed out that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be far more comprehensive and encompassing than any previous industrial revolution, because of the speed of society’s acceptance and implementation of its concepts, as well as the meaningful changes that have and will occur on a societal and individual level.
“The first and second industrial revolutions changed how we produced and consumed. The third changed how we communicate . . . the Fourth Industrial Revolution will change us.”
He noted that developments in fields such as bioengineering and artificial intelligence, would shape the way the world, as well as individuals, function. “Fifteen years ago social media didn’t exist . . . think of how social media has changed the perception . . . the concept of identity.”
Schwab stated that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will change the competitiveness of economies. He believes that, in the future, capital will cease to be the determining factor driving economies and that talent “will replace capital as the most vital resource.”
As such, he encouraged delegates and attendees at the symposium to create environments that enable both commercial and societal entrepreneurship, “that allow young scientists to move from research to implementation and commercialisation.”
Schwab noted that there are a million technology-orientated start-ups established each year, and that roughly half of those start-ups are based in China. “Only about 1% of all start-ups actually become a success; nonetheless, South Africa must ensure that it has an ecosystem in place to support them . . . it must let the entrepreneurial spirit flourish.”
He also pointed out that to fully realise the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, understanding its concepts and potential is insufficient. He believes the Fourth Industrial Revolution must be “embraced” on a societal level. Further, Schwab noted that achieving the maximum possible benefit could only occur through multistakeholder collaboration.
“Those countries that are the most competitive are the ones in which industry, academia, labour, civil society and government work together to exploit opportunities and jointly shape the future.”
Schwab stressed the importance of a shared vision in creating strong, inclusive and sustainable growth. He noted that, given its impact on the future of work, combined with the current economic realities and their effects on access to education and resources, the Fourth Industrial Revolution could, initially, increase inequality.
Schwab noted that innovative solutions gained traction to the detriment of traditional industry, and cited an example of e-commerce and its adverse effect on traditional stores and shopping centres.
However, he reiterated the importance of collaboration and noted that input, engagement and pressure from every facet of society could ensure that the country’s venture into the Fourth Industrial Revolution is managed in a way that leads to job creation and benefits the majority of the citizens.
He emphasised the importance of education and noted that it is possible that a significant majority of South African teachers lack the capacity to teach Stem subjects in an effective, practical manner.
He also noted that traditional education and previously held beliefs regarding education would have to adapt and adjust to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and pointed to China where children as young as four are reportedly learning coding.
Meanwhile, Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane noted that events such as the symposium, "played a critical role in developing the human capital needed to address the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.”
Kubayi-Ngubane also noted that she and Schwab would be participating in a “special roundtable” convened by President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss what the government, in cooperation with the WEF, should do to best promote international investment partnerships to accelerate growth and development.
“The CSIR is at the forefront of our effort to invest in and develop capabilities and capacities in technology domains, such as sensor technology, high-performance computing, data analytics, machine learning and AI,” she stated, adding that her department is investing in areas such as genome analysis, nanotechnology, new materials and drone development to ensure, “that South Africa is not marginalised in the disruption and creation of new industries”.
In line with his call for collaboration, Schwab noted that the WEF is in the process of establishing a global platform for start-ups, which will eventually assist entrepreneurs in forming partnerships, finding financial assistance, and receiving coaching or mentorship.
Further, he noted that, over the next year, the WEF will establish 12 Fourth Industrial Revolution centres around the world, including centres in Mumbai, Beijing, San Francisco and Tokyo.
He noted that these centres would look into developing globally accepted ethical rules and implementation policies for the use of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.