• May 29th, 2020

Hullabaloo, joys and sorrows of industrial revolutions: whither Africa?

We are informed that soon, robots will be making tea and coffee for us in our offices. That robots will build our houses and construct our roads while we just instruct them to do so. Also, there will be cars that will take us to our destinations at the command of some buttons, or cars being remote controlled from somewhere. All these and other wonders will be made possible by artificial intelligence created through the digitisation of the world around humanity in what has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 There is also information filtering about the Fifth Industrial Revolution. And in the not so distant future, probably the Sixth, or Seventh … even Tenth, who knows? Anything is possible as we are left at the mercy of digital revolutions that are advancing at an alarming speed. Everyday people are bombarded with huge volumes of information about these industrial revolutions, at least the fourth and fifth revolutions now. 

There is euphoria and hullabaloo about these industrial revolutions in every sector – in industry, commerce, education, government, non-governmental organisations – in short, the euphoria and hullabaloo are ubiquitous. Each sector acts in ways that suggest that it does not want to be outdone by others, as if they are saying we do not want to be found unprepared. Workshops, seminars, conferences, symposia, colloquiums and other forms of gatherings are organised to prepare for the impending revolutions. The actions are like the arrangements people would take when an impending tsunami is announced; people become restless and prepare for the impending disaster in all fashions.

 Robotics and automation will be drivers of very facet of human life. Those who know about robotics and automation go on to tell us that a completely new world order is being ushered in by these industrial revolutions. A world order that is a straight jacket and disruptive. A straight jacket because when a robot is commanded to perform a task, it just does that without thinking, without compromising and without allowing room for alternatives. Robots will perform most of the tasks performed by human beings at the moment. It is true that we have seen the replacement of human beings by technologically advanced systems in places like airports, banks, shopping malls and hospitals. 

There is no doubt that earlier revolutions – the first, second and third, despite pushing millions of people out of their jobs – have improved the quality of human life. With digitisation in our midst, and more of it coming, more advancement of humankind is surely guaranteed. Digitisation has resulted in the mass production of goods and services. It is argued that goods and services have become and will be cheaper than before due to their mass production. However, like in the previous revolutions, millions of people will lose their jobs when robotics and amination take full charge of humanity. The ripple effects of the sorrows of job losses will be felt in society for generations to come.  Some say the socio-economic and psycho-social problems that come with the industrial revolutions will be disastrous for the highly industrialised world order.  

There is danger in the sense that these revolutions benefit small groups of people economically, leaving the majority in doldrums. The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report of 2017 paints a bad picture about the Fourth Industrial Revolution when it says that “the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise income levels and improve the quality of life for all people. But today, the economic benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are becoming more concentrated among a small group. This increasing inequality can lead to political polarisation, social fragmentation, and lack of trust in institutions. To address these challenges, leaders in the public and private sectors need to have a deeper commitment to more inclusive development and equitable growth that lifts up all people.”

Some schools of thought argue that the industrial revolutions will affect Africa differently from the developed world. Reeling with poverty, diseases, wars and general underdevelopment, it is sensible to argue that the industrial revolutions will benefit the developed countries more substantially before spin-offs are realised in Africa. There are some areas in Africa which are still in the first industrial revolution. There is evidence which shows that other parts of Africa have not even crossed the bridge between the second and third industrial revolutions. It is therefore logical to suggest that talking about the fourth and fifth revolutions for the backward parts of Africa will be a waste of time and energy at the moment. So, the question which begs answers is: wither Africa?

* Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord. Email address:kjairos@gmail.com

Staff Reporter
2019-10-18 08:03:14 | 7 months ago

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