The arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has opened the eyes of the world to the speed at which the modern world is experiencing technological change. This revolution represents a global technological shift combining digital, biological and physical dimensions through digitalisation (converting business processes over to use digital technologies) and digitisation (changing analogue to digital). The 4IR is being advanced by a host of interconnected technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and analytics, 3D printing, 5G, biotechnology etc.
Arriving with a double-edged sword, the 4IR promises a world of technological opportunity for societies that harness its technologies and yet also the potential of increasing the disparities in societies where social and economic issues are not completely dealt with. Given South Africa’s history and economic positioning in the rest of Africa, there is a clear need to address the country’s positioning with the advancement of the 4IR. Through Closing the Gap, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala presents a stirring readiness manifesto to South Africans. Marwala – a renowned academic and leading thinker in the artificial intelligence arena – argues: “We cannot cower from the 4IR in fear that it may widen our disparities. Instead, we need to be prepared for the shift so that we can deploy technology in a way that is beneficial to all facets of society”.
Closing the Gap begins by providing an overview of the 4IR – positioning it through the history of previous revolutions and highlighting key 4IR discourse topics such as automation, the future of jobs and South Africa’s strategy. Marwala also explores the impact and potential of the 4IR on industry, data, business and society in four respective parts. In each part, Marwala skilfully explains technological fundamentals in an easy-to-understand manner, using AI as a common thread and lacing each explanation with a contextualised example for South Africans. He illustrates the application of 4IR thinking, examines South Africa’s readiness for 4IR technological adoption and presents arguments for each possible strategic way forward.
Closing the Gap is a good read for anyone looking to understand the holistic effects of the 4IR from a societal and strategic point of view. It is a short and easy read, filled with thought-provoking insights that can be taken further into the everyday work conversation.
Reviewed by Martha Asiimwe