Having a clear understanding of what the 4IR is and what it means for South Africans will allow you to be fully prepared for the new and exciting changes that will accompany it.

media update’s Talisa Jansen van Rensburg answers some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding 4IR.

So, without further ado, here they are:

1. What is the 4IR?

Before getting excited about all the opportunities that the 4IR will hold for countries, it is vital to understand what exactly it is.

According to TechTarget, the 4IR is defined as: “The current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things, robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work.

So, why is 4IR such an important topic? Because it is going to improve the lives of humans, making work easier and more efficient.

The 4IR is when people come together with digital technology and look at how this technology can improve their lifestyles and working environments.

“The transformation will shift from humans depending on technology to do things to working hand-in-hand with tech and AI to achieve fast and accurate systems.”

This technology will include:
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • The Internet of things (IoT)
  • Robotics
  • Genetic engineering
  • 3D printing

2. How will 4IR affect you?

The 4IR will affect everyone. It will alter the way humans communicate with one another, how we do our jobs and the way we go about our daily lives. This means that you will need to be able to accept — and adapt to — the changes that this revolution will bring.

There's no evidence as of yet that shows how the 4IR will impact each and every industry, but there have been various predictions. For instance, 4IR will impact the PR industry because “communicators [will] have to ready themselves for interacting with the mixed reality natives. This will require constant change and innovation,” says Prateek Chatterjee.

3. How will the 4IR affect businesses in South Africa?

Business in South Africa will need to be aware of the fact that a lot of people will not necessarily have all the needed skills with the new jobs that the 4IR will create. This means that businesses will have a backlog when 4IR is implemented in the workplace, because a lot of time and resources will need to focus on developing people within the companies.

This digital revolution will put each and every business in South Africa in a spot where they will need to take risks.

A report done by TIPS looking at the 4IR in South Africa said that, according to the World Economic Forum, the 4IR will be creating and developing new techniques and business models that will affect the production process within the country. These changes will be implemented in each and every industry.

4. Is 4IR a good thing?

The benefits of the 4IR are all-inclusive, which means that everyone in the country should benefit from it. These benefits could include making their jobs easier, online shopping would be quicker and the economy could grow faster.

One of the greatest promises of the 4IR is the potential to improve the quality of life for the world's population and raise income levels,” says Bernard Marr, a contributor at Forbes.

When people accept the changes that 4IR will bring to the table and they can learn to make technology work for them, they will surely reap the benefits in the future. A benefit that can and will arise from the 4IR is that it will create a lot of new types of jobs that are yet to exist today. This creates lots of opportunities for people to learn and master news skills.

Although there are a lot of good things associated with the 4IR, it is vital to keep in mind that “we are entering new territory where, to succeed, we must fundamentally understand how we as human beings think about our world and our relation to our technology.” says Michael Graview, a professor at Bryant University.

5. What could hold back 4IR in South Africa?

The biggest thing that can hold back the 4IR in South Africa would be the mindset of the people. It is vital for South Africans to be open minded about the changes that this digital transformation will bring “as opposed to reverting to systems that take longer to get the job done but are in use due to the fear of the unknown.”

If people hold onto the idea that technology will take over the world and the lives of people, there will never be growth.

The youth unemployment rate in South Africa is a shocking 58.1%. Thus, 4IR can be viewed as a big risk for young people, such as Gen Zers, that are heading into the fourth industrial revolution. This is because, with these new technologies, a lot of manual labour that is done by humans can soon be done with machines, meaning job specs will surely change and the new generation will have to adapt.

There are many benefits that 4IR can bring, but one of the most obvious issues, in a country with already high youth unemployment, is the [effect] that automation will have on jobs.” says Adrian Hinchcliffe contributor at brainstorm.

People no longer have the option of denying the use of AI and machine learning, humans will need to coexist with the technology for the benefit of humanity.

Another issue that will hold South Africa back is the number of people who live in rural areas, where technology is old, slow or non-existent. The issue starts with people not having access to technology, and not being taught the necessary skills.

For the 4IR to succeed, the government will need to find ways to include all people in the revolution. If South Africa can focus on developing everyone in the country, there is now doubt that 4IR will benefit everyone.

6. Why are AI and 4IR inseparable?

AI can be found all around us — Alexa is always there to play your favourite song, Spotify knows what music preferences you have and Netflix just loves making recommendations — and you are left shook because they know all these things about you.

AI is all about the data and what that data means, making it a key component in the 4IR.

Data is the fundamental ingredient in digital transformation, with the technologies including IoT, AI, blockchain, and edge — are all methods of collecting, analysing and storing information,” says Marr.

Nigel Moulton, Global CTO at Dell Technologies spoke to Industry 4.0 about how 4IR will not simply be a ‘one size fits all’ approach for companies. Business will need to combine AI and IoT to generate data that will work best for them.

AI is changing the way people live, work and communicate, and this is what the 4IR will mostly bring forward in this digital transformation period. This is why AI will work hand in hand with it — without AI, there will be no 4IR.

7. How will 4IR influence how we work?

The biggest change we’ll see in the workplace is definitely the fact that employees will be allowed to work remotely. The ‘nine to five’ life that we all know too well might disappear too — no more going into the office and sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day.

An article by Change looks at how this revolution will benefit the employee: “Not having to commute means they’ll have more free time, a better work-life balance and greater flexibility leading to overall employee satisfaction and commitment.

Being able to have a better balance between their work and personal life will allow employees to feel more relaxed, since they don’t spend time in traffic or getting distracted by employees at work. This means that their quality of work might improve.

8. How can businesses future-proof while 4IR is being implemented?

It can be daunting knowing that soon there will be machines that could do your job, but that doesn’t mean that they will take it away from you — instead, they are making your life easier.

Businesses need to understand that they will have to upskill their employees for new types of jobs that will exist in the future.

An important aspect that employers and employees will need to keep in mind is that “there’s one crucial area where neural networks do not outperform humans: creativity,” says Katharine Schwab contributor at Fast Company.

This means that, although AI and machine learning will be able to do much of the same work that humans are currently doing, there is a lot that humans can do that machines simply aren’t able to do — such as being creative and having that human touch.

AI will complement humans, not replace them, which is why you need to look at AI as a helping hand instead of worrying that it will take over.

9. How should South Africans prepare for 4IR?

South Africans need to equip themselves with knowledge, meaning they need to do a lot of research to see what the 4IR is all about and how it will impact them. Having a clear understanding of what it is and what it means for them will allow them to be open to the changes that are about to come.

South Africans also need to keep in mind how it will affect their lifestyle and the way that they do things. They need to learn how to adjust to ensure that everyone integrates with the 4IR in a graceful and successful matter.

“The best strategy to stay ahead of the changing needs of the labour market is to retrain, upskill and transform the workforce,” says Tshilidzi Marwala, professor of Artificial Intelligence and vice chancellor of the University of Johannesburg.

10. How will 4IR empower people to upskill themselves?

The 4IR will bring amazing technology to the front and centre of each company. This means that employees, entrepreneurs and freelancers are presented with the opportunity to learn as much as possible about what this technology does, how it works and how it will help them.

Gaining access to this type of technology will allow them to upskill themselves and create a future-proof job. With the Internet being extremely fast and efficient, people can do research and find courses that will allow them to enhance their current skill sets.

In an article by We Forum, Bob Moritz says that companies need to focus on the following three parts of society:

  1. The existing workforce: These people have bills and families that they need to take care of; therefore, they need to be upskilled to ensure that they have a steady income, even with the disruption that comes with the 4IR.
  2. The next generation: Countless young people will join the working environment every year. This means that people will need to start focusing on developing the youth with vital skills that will allow them to thrive in the working environment where 4IR is taking place.
  3. Those who are currently being excluded: These are the people living in rural areas and older people who are not ‘getting with the times’. The government and private business will need to ensure to include them and give them training to build strong skills.

The 4IR will bring forward amazing opportunities. All you need to do is embrace them.

What are some other important questions that surround the 4IR? Let us know in the comments section below.

We see you’ve enjoyed our content right until the end. To get more insightful stories, sign up for our newsletter.

Now that you have a broader understanding of the 4IR, be sure to read The Fourth Industrial Revolution: An African perspective to be prepared for the changes that are about to come.

*Image courtesy of Pixabay