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Thought Leadership- Analysing the Fourth Industrial Revolution - published 5 Dec 2019

CDC ICT, Research and Strategy Programme Director, Monde Mawasha outlines the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Thought Leadership - Analysing the Fourth Industrial Revolution  

Port Elizabeth, 05 December 2019 - There is a lot that is being said about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Is it real? Is it a steam train that’s coming towards us, or a Maglev Bullet Train that is going to sweep us all off our feet?

The first thing that can be said about 4IR is that it is real. It is a force that will profoundly change how we work and how we live.


It is driven by various technologies, of which Artificial Intelligence is an important component. These technologies will affect all aspects of our being. Now, is the ontological impact of this force going to be robots taking over the world and people becoming slaves?


I would say that rest assured. The brain of Artificial Intelligence (AI) compared to a human being is that of an insect, at the present stage. The brain of a human being has close to 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections between neurons. It is the most complex structure in the universe.


But, then, therein lies the Rub! These connections are in each and every one of us. The perennial question has always been how these 100 trillion connection in the 7 billion of humanity under the sun can be unleashed for the common good.


Now, clearly the robots are not about to take over the world…yet!!


It may be at a ripe old age of, say, 200 or 250 years (your lifespan doubled due to advances in medical and bio technologies), one may bewail, as the 19th Century writer Ludwig von Goethe said “I thank God that I am not young in so finished a world.”


That aside, let us illustrate some scenarios for 4IR.


Imagine a mechanical digger that is AI enabled. It necessarily will use sensors. Let us suppose that a Ground Penetrating Sonar is attached on the digger and it can thus sense when it is digging that there are cables in the ground. It then would immediately desist from digging that area to ensure that it does not damage the electrical or communication cables.

Three questions arise from this scenario:

1.    What will be the next action of the digger?

2.    What is to be done of the former human digger operator?

3.    What if this is a false positive?


I would suggest that the former human operator would play the role of using the 100 trillion connections that they possess and is able to override the digger and inform it that this is a false positive and that it must continue digging. The human may then set the sensitivity of the ground penetrating sonar based on the soil conditions of the area being dug and thus ensure minimisation of false positives and increase the efficiency of the digger.


It may be that the human operator then has to reconfigure the digger to dig shallower or give a new instruction of a new digging route that by-passes the cables.


One can imagine the utility in this scenario. The world that is inter-connected has been spared a paralysing outage of their computer networks or electrical power connections. This being repeated throughout the world has the potential of contributing billions of dollars to the economy through enhanced efficiencies.


The human operator has been released from the bondage of the drudgery of manually operating the digger day in and day out, and instead is liberated to apply usefully the 100 billion neurons in the brain that they possess.


Another scenario may go as:


The Tesla Electric Car Autopilot is meant to be used in highways and freeways only. But as human beings we are explorers by nature. That is why we were able to get out of Africa and conquer the entire globe. Thus, we will test the envelope and use our Tesla electric car Autopilot function in urban areas. Now the insect-sized brain of the Autopilot AI is overwhelmed and an accident ensues. However, it so happens that the driver has wearable intelligent sensors that monitor her vital signs as well as hormonal and protein indicators that detect various bodily conditions through her sweat.

This intelligent system will immediately inform emergency paramedics that, for instance, she has internal bleeding, and has broken bones in certain areas. It will then determine and display the steps that the paramedic needs to take to efficiently extract her and how to medically attend to her. The paramedic is thus hugely empowered and is able to not stabilise her and then rush her to hospital, but to actually, medically attend to her to ensure that she has maximum chance of surviving the accident. Not only that, the information on the wearable device is transmitted to hospitals and an intelligent information system calculates the priorities levels of patients coming in versus the capability of the hospital personnel and equipment.


The value of the human paramedic is enhanced in this value chain. And the health system is able to run more efficiently. I would postulate that the impact on the economy and the self-actualisation of all the people in this value chain is incalculable!


Thus in my mind the impact of 4IR is in facilitating the creativity of individual human beings, and allow them to self-actualise.


This creates a totally new Economic Paradigm.

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