forceful combination of disruptive technology and cognitive computing means the
world is on the cusp of rapid change that will transform the way we work, how
we live in cities, our healthcare and education systems and almost every
possible element of our lives.
is happening at an exponential rate. It is difficult for the human mind to
grasp just how quickly the change is progressing,” Solomon Assefa, director of
IBM Research for Africa told a recent Gordon Institute of Business Science forum.
emergence of the fourth industrial revolution, a concept that includes
integrated economies, mechanisation and automation and builds on the digital
revolution of the last century, was put forward at the 2016 World Economic
Forum gathering at Davos earlier this year. The movement is characterised by an
availability of technologies, including the Internet of Things, robotics,
artificial intelligence and 3D printing that is revolutionising industries
across the globe.
such as robotics and artificial intelligence have the potential to augment
human intelligence, Assefa said, as humans and machines work together.
amounts of data are generated online on a daily basis. Cognitive computing is
able to process and make sense of this unstructured information which is
extremely difficult to analyse,” Assefa said.
added that powerful cognitive technology could assist humans to make better
decisions and be more productive with potential applications for the healthcare,
education, financial services and oil and gas sectors.
beyond commercial returns, cognitive computing also has the potential to tackle
grand challenges such as affordable healthcare, provision of infrastructure and
Bani Kgosana of the Britehouse Group warned that the threat of mass
unemployment posed by artificial intelligence “is very real.” Unemployment
would potentially need to be redefined, with the rise of the “on demand”
economy a growing prospect, where skills are sourced and utilised based on
time, capacity and knowledge, irrespective of location.
The avalanche of data and digital mastery
told the forum there was an impending avalanche of data that businesses would
need to interpret, as 500 billion pieces of equipment become connected online
through the Internet of Things.
have to think how they will shift their mindset to accommodate all this data
and take advantage of the opportunities presented by new technology,” he
most organisations want to be considered digital masters, this would take a
great deal of internal alignment to achieve, Kgosana said. Digital mastery
could potentially make organisations more profitable and efficient at
mastery is being applied across industries, such as banking, insurance, travel
and telecommunications to varying degrees of success, but is more than just
portals and mobile apps. Kgosana said organisations would need an entire back
office of capabilities to fulfil requirements and meet customer needs; and have
flexible business models and a culture that is open to change.
comes with a huge responsibility. The amount of data companies have on clients
is incredible and must be used wisely and respectfully,” he added.
need to understand how easy it is to be disrupted, Assefa said. Organisations’
best form of defence against disruption was engagement to create an open
platform for collaboration.
technology such as 3D printing, which decentralises production, could threaten
the traditional manufacturing industry to an extent, but would more likely
change and create new categories of products, managing director of Rapid 3D
David Bullock said.
Will Africa participate in the revolution?
to the African continent’s involvement in the fourth industrial revolution
include infrastructure constraints such as access to electricity and broadband
and a lack of education, Assefa said.
no research and development funding means the continent is always playing catch
up and never leapfrogging,” he said.
Narsoo of Kite, a creative digital technology lab, said disruptive technologies
had the potential to help solve real problems around poverty and inequality
found in growing African cities. “Cities generate innovation, but also
complexity. Technology provides us with a way to get out of the sticky
said long-term thinking was needed to develop a future vision for the African
rethinking the education system was necessary to build a competent base of
knowledge workers. “It’s not just about access to education but also what is
being taught,” he concluded.