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EXPLOIT THE REVOLUTION OP-ED

Don’t just imagine a digital future – we can create it right here, right now

Don’t just imagine a digital future – we can create it right here, right now
(Photo: Getty Images | iStock)

We already have the ingredients and the expertise to start anticipating and solving future problems and future needs – and designing the digital arena in which these interactions and solutions can take place.

It’s never been harder to see the potential and opportunity in South Africa than it feels right now – 81% of our kids cannot read for meaning by Grade 4, we have 7.9 million unemployed people, or just shy of 33% joblessness on the narrow definition, and our finance minister has warned that the risks into the future remain high.

The adages “never let a crisis go to waste” or “every cloud has a silver lining” provide zero comfort.

But what this also means is that, as dire as our physical realities are and the perceived threat of new digital advancements like AI, the need for a new approach and mindset for how humans create value – and what value now means in a post-pandemic, Fourth Industrial Revolution world – has never been more urgent. It has also never been more exciting.

We can no longer deny that the way society creates and grows value must evolve. We already know that this value cannot be purely short term and profit driven. We know that, in the pursuit of profit for shareholders over the longer term, organisations must also respect, and in many instances uplift and improve the environment and societies in which they function, so that all stakeholders may responsibly derive a benefit both now and for future generations.

And the paradigm shift that the transformation of our socioeconomies offers in this Fourth Industrial Revolution will not only enhance this imperative, but add dimensions that actors in the traditional economy cannot even imagine just yet.

This is where South Africa has a gap. This is where we can stake out our boundless digital ground. We can and should be using our raw instincts to make a bad situation better and channel our reluctant resilience towards something innovative, unique and truly quite mind-blowing.

In our breakthrough to digitally transform businesses, government and society, there is absolutely no reason that we must keep doing what we’ve always been doing.

Read more in Daily Maverick: New AI Institute is key to South Africa’s navigation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Covid-19, and our resultant lockdown measures, forced rapid change and adoption of technologies for hybrid working in areas where South Africa had been lagging behind the rest of the world.

There is also no reason this breakthrough must be initiated and led solely by information technology geeks and artificial intelligence bots. There is every reason that this revolution must be attacked and shaped and electrified by teachers, engineers, data scientists, shopkeepers, lawyers, taxi drivers, artists, nurses, miners, doctors, shelf packers, agricultural workers and many more people who understand what it means to be a human deriving value from an increasingly insecure world.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2023 Report found, unsurprisingly, that the adoption of technology will be a key driver of business transformation in the next five years.

Among other steps, 75% of businesses expect to adopt e-commerce and digital trade, and 81% will adopt education and workforce technologies by 2027. The report also found that the effect of most technologies on jobs over the next five years is expected to be a net positive.

But this job growth will come with significant job displacement and a lot of churn, especially in supply chain and transportation, and the media, entertainment and sport industries.

The good news for South Africa is that large job growth is expected in education, agriculture and digital commerce and trade. Roles in technology and renewable energy, such as AI and machine learning specialists, sustainability specialists, business intelligence analysts and information security analysts, will grow quickly.

Renewable energy engineers and solar energy installation and system engineers will be in huge demand too. But we can expect clerical or secretarial roles to phase out the fastest.

Now is the time to virtually shake off our preconceived convictions about the way the world and South Africa are going.

We already have the ingredients and the expertise right here, right now, to start anticipating and solving future problems and future needs – and designing the (digital) arena in which these interactions and solutions can take place.

If one thinks of renewable energy alone, and every South African’s need for reliable energy, we’re already years ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to solving our Stage 6 daily energy crises: even those of us without any electrical training understand the basics of how energy supply cannot meet demand, and how we can make small adjustments in our homes and businesses to keep the lights on and children fed.

Little to lose

If it feels like survival mode, that’s because it is, and it’s precisely this tenacity to work around or even through a seemingly insurmountable problem that is going to pay dividends if we use it correctly.

Yes, it feels hopeless right now but the flipside is that we have little left to lose. The future is coming fast and we can either continue to get bashed around by unpredictable headwinds, or we can use our experience and deep expertise to predict the headwinds, and create a solution in advance that will serve not only us but others in a digitally transformed global economy.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 

South Africa’s 4IR strategy: Huge gap between what’s on the ground and what the Ramaphosa commission recommends

Quality education is the engine of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Now is the time to virtually shake off our preconceived convictions about the way the world and South Africa are going. Now is the time to set our own deliberate and multidimensional course into a future featuring the gift of infinite unknown, unshaped, undetermined outcomes.

With the right people and the right mindsets to support those experts with the technical skills and know-how, South Africans can transform our collective futures in an inclusive and growing economy. We encourage you to embrace the opportunity. DM

Adam Craker is CEO and Naeem Seedat is Managing Partner: Digital Economy at IQbusiness, a South African technology and management consultancy.

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