Automation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will set you free from the drudgery of labour, former president Kgalema Motlanthe told young people gathered in Johannesburg on Monday, 17 June 2019.
Motlanthe was delivering the closing remarks to a group of high school students at the Nasrec Expo Centre as part of Gauteng’s 5th Youth Expo.
He told the students that automation would free humans from “having to perform the drudgery of labour”, and that although the process will be disruptive, “essentially the essence of it is to improve the lives of human beings”.
“We must not fear innovation and creation of new smart devices,” as they were designed to make life simpler, although this would lead to the loss of work in some sectors, Motlanthe said.
The event sought to bring together different minds to discuss the type of skills that the “super-citizen of tomorrow” will need to survive the 4IR.
“The super-citizen of tomorrow is digitally savvy and socially conscious. They utilise technology to advance society’s interests, and are creative, enterprising, care for the environment and community,” said the brochure for the event. Motlanthe’s remarks were preceded by a panel discussion on the skills needed to be a competent citizen, with a focus on education.
Ziyanda Ngcobo, a senior associate at law firm Webber Wentzel, said she was at the event as there is a “lack-of-skills gap that we are experiencing in our economy to get to where we need to be as a country”.
For Kwena Mabotja, Africa Director at SAP Next Gen, automation provides a great opportunity for youth because although there will be 80 million jobs displaced globally, 120 million will be created.
Mabotja said a few years ago the job title “social media manager” did not exist, but now companies are hiring people to manage their social media — and young people must be prepared for these new opportunities.
International consultant Steven Asei-Dantono said play-based learning was critical to grasping the skills of the 4IR, particularly in how we imagine public spaces, schools and experiences of learning in different settings.
Motlanthe thanked panellists “for sharing practical approaches to social problems”. He said that at the beginning of the first industrial revolution, people were made to work for 18 hours a day, and from sheer fatigue, were injured at work, some losing their limbs, some their lives.
As a result of the demands of that time, work was limited to eight hours — which determined the present length of the working day, said Motlanthe. The rationale was that the 24 hours of the day would be divided by three — the first eight hours dedicated to work, the second eight for resting and the third eight for leisure.
The “effect and impact of the first industrial revolution upon the nature of work and how society organised itself” was to set aside eight hours for people to live their lives to the full.
Dial forward to 2019, said Motlanthe, and when we speak of the 4IR and smart devices, human beings have found it necessary to fashion tools so their limitations can be augmented by those devices.
“What I want you to think about is how to understand the 4th Industrial Revolution. Furthermore, what we are really talking about is the story of tools, tools created to make human lives better,” he said.
Motlanthe said there would be disruptions in terms of the type of work done, but overall it would bring progress for humanity. For example, currently, a farmer would have to wake up early in the morning to check if the farm fence was still intact. But now a farmer can use a drone that submits a report in real time.
“The farmer has now more leisure time for himself. We must think now what is this farmer going to do with his leisure time?” he said. “If you have more leisure time it must be filled up with meaningful leisure.” DM
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