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Understanding the fourth industrial revolution in a South African context

The fourth industrial revolution refers to new ways in which we introduce and use technology into our societies. An example would include robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology.

FILE: A robot arm carries a glass part in the assembly line of a factory. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - The first industrial revolution brought mechanical innovations and with it steam power, which brought the coal-powered external combustion engine; it started in the late 18th century with the mechanisation of the textile industry and the birth of the factory.

Over the centuries, we have seen two more industrial revolutions shape and develop societies throughout the world.

Fast forward to today, and we have been hearing from experts and politicians of the fourth industrial revolution.

But what is the fourth industrial revolution?

The fourth industrial revolution refers to new ways in which we introduce and use technology into our societies. An example would include robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology.

Raymond de Villiers, a speaker and consultant who assists organisations understand trends that are influencing the future world of work, said that this is the stage that we, including South Africa, are currently in.

Like with every industrial revolution that has seen an introduction in a key technology that has added increased efficiencies and has brought about vast improvements in workplaces, it has made it cheaper to deliver products, but De Villiers said this has come at a cost for human labour.

“That, particularly in South Africa, is probably why we are hearing about politicians talking about the fourth industrial revolution every second chance that they get because job creation and the workforce is a massive issue for South Africa because… we can’t just drop technology in.”

He said this is because SA is faced with an epidemic of high levels of unemployment.

Listen to the audio below for more.