A few days ago, I posted an online article about how a hotel in Sandton has robots serving its patrons as waitresses.
The commentary that ensured after that proved two things to me; first, there’s a warranted fear in many sectors of our labour force that the fourth industrial revolution(4IR) will further result with many people joining the unemployment statistics, as machines will be taking over their jobs. Secondly and most importantly, I had realized that there’s a much-needed education around what is 4IR and what its effect will be on our livelihood.
Now, in Closing the Gap, professor Tshilidzi Marwala has given us a book that will not only educate us about the impact that 4IR will have on jobs and other facets of our lives, but he has given us a tool that will provide us with vast knowledge on how to utilise the opportunities that will be presented by the 4IR.
I will be first to admit that before going through the pages of this book, I had a slight idea of what is Artificial intelligence (AI) and how that will be a powering source of 4IR.
However, Prof Marwala, who is not only deputy chairperson on South Africa’s Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but a leading expert on AI, explains what is AI and how that will be a leading source of 4IR.
I like the fact that Prof Marwala used a simplistic language with also practical examples of what and how AI will change the trajectory of our lives and what we should do as country and continent to embrace it.
While the scribe is raising valuable points in all the chapters about how we should, as the continent of Africa, take a leading role and not just be spectators in this revolution, as we had been in the last three. However, there is a point he raised which I truly find it problematic.
On page 74 and 75 of this book, Marwala is making a good point on how the Chinese government, in its bid to protect its national security, banned technological companies such as Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and Twitter and created its own versions such as Baidu, WeChat and Weibo.
Of course, this move to ban these companies is a very contentious one, but the security aspect is making a compelling case as he also agrees.
Now, where I totally disagree with the good Prof is where he states that the African continent cannot afford to have its own versions of these technologies because unlike China, the language issue will be a problem and we also do not have skills to create them.
While I agree that there many languages on the continent (about 1500-2000 languages). However, we have Kiswahili, which is spoken in a few African countries.
If the African Union can compel all its member states to introduce Kiswahili in their school systems. 10 or 20 years later, we can have one common language in the continent and then we can have technologies in our language (like China) that will serve us, rather than having the US controlling us and having access to our security information. The fact that we do not have one common language, should not discourage us from creating our own networks.
Also, Prof Marwala’s argument that we cannot create English-based social networks to rival the already established ones (the US ones) is discouraging. If Africans can unite and vow to support each other with their innovations, we can remove these established networks in our shores. Prof Marwala, I dare say to you that we do have skilful innovators in the continent and all they need is support from all Africans.
Besides that, Closing the Gap is a valuable tool that will help every African seize the opportunities of the 4IR.