What they didn’t tell you about the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR)
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), characterized by the fusion of the digital, biological, and physical worlds, as well as the growing utilization of new technologies has ushered in a new era of economic disruption with uncertain socio-economic consequences for Africa at large and Namibia is no exception. However, Namibia has been left behind during the past industrial revolutions. Will this time be different?
So far, it does not appear that Namibia has yet claimed the 21st century, as it still lags behind in several indicators essential for a successful digital revolution.
We have seen automation in the previous three revolutions, but these were on a mechanical level for the first industrial revolution, on an electrical level for the second industrial revolution, and on an electronic level for the third industrial revolution.
These developments took over labor-intensive tasks from humans, but humans found other more cognitive jobs. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, however, is an entire paradigm shift. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is premised on many technologies but chief among them is artificial intelligence (AI). AI technology makes machines intelligent. A machine is intelligent if it can analyze information and extract insights beyond the obvious. In other words, machines become superhuman and begin to alter entire industries.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution describes the changes we can expect to the way we work, live, and interact with one another due to the growth of internet-powered technology, the Internet of Things, and other systems. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will mark significant changes in both the physical and digital worlds; which will create an untold promise for the future of society, as well as potential problems for the workforce.
While the fear is that millions of jobs will disappear as a result of more automated and machine-intelligent processes, these technologies are an opportunity to transform professions and make human beings much more productive. Namibia’s economy is growing at less than 1 percent per year and unemployment is climbing, fears around mass job losses resulting from another industrial revolution are difficult to curb.
It is not just unskilled workers who worry about being replaced by machines; workers in skilled professions such as medicine and finance fear the change too. However, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to disrupt white-collar workers as compared to blue-collar workers. Think about it, how much easier is it to automate the work of a credit scorer in a bank than that of a farmer!
It is envisaged that demand in the labor market will be for professionals who have a blend of science and technology with human and social sciences. This can be achieved through multidisciplinary education.
Re-skilling the workforce a role for Universities
The best strategy to stay ahead of the changing needs of the labor market is to retrain, upskill, and transform the workforce. Career paths are changing fundamentally. The labor market is shifting towards hybrid jobs that combine skill sets such as marketing and data analysis, or design and programming. So how do businesses succeed in a 4.0 business climate? That is the burning question we face.
To remain competitive, it has become critically important for companies to leverage and invest in relevant innovation and disruptive technologies. Universities can support this process by offering flexible multi-disciplinary programs that respond to these real-world needs and that enable young people to acquire the skills needed for the jobs of the future.
Behaviors for digital transformation
The shift that is required in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is in the workplace and is predicated on greater efficiency as human beings and machines learn to work together, enhancing supply chains and ultimately boosting economic growth. This is particularly important in Namibia as we try to kick start our economy. In a country that has barely managed to achieve growth rates of 5 percent – a level required to make a dent in the increasing unemployment rate – it is essential that we tap into the opportunities that the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings.
The promise of AI
The McKinsey Global Institute’s report on the impact of AI on the world economy suggests that AI has the potential to incrementally add 16 percent or around USD 13 trillion to current global economic output by 2030 – that is, an annual average contribution to productivity growth of about 1.2 percent over the next decade. When we break this down, automation of labor could add up to 11 percent or around USD 9 trillion to global GDP by 2030, while innovations in products and services could increase GDP by about 7 percent or around USD 6 trillion.
Nobel Laureate Robert J. Shiller said, “you cannot wait until a house burns down to buy fire insurance on it. We cannot wait until there are massive dislocations in our society to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
“The time to prepare ourselves for the Fourth Industrial Revolution is NOW!”