GLOBAL REVOLUTION

Is Africa ready for the fourth industrial revolution?

Technology set to change how the world relates

In Summary

•The Fourth Industrial Revolution has already evidenced its potential to increase global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations worldwide

•Technological advancements have increased the efficiency and productivity of global supply chains, which in turn has reduced to the cost of trade, opened new markets, and driven economic growth

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Argentina's President Mauricio Macri and philanthropist and co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation Bill Gates during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2018. /Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Argentina's President Mauricio Macri and philanthropist and co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation Bill Gates during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2018. /Reuters

A key topic for discussion during the ongoing World Economic Forum, held in Davos, Switzerland is the future of technology, and the impact that technological advancements have on the global economy.

Termed the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, unprecedented technological advancements in the current age promise to disrupt all aspects of life, and simultaneously transform entire systems of production, management and governance.

Breakthroughs in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology and quantum computing stand to fundamentally alter our way of life including how global challenges are addressed.

These technologies promise to alter how we relate with each other and the world around us; increase efficiency in production and management processes; and provide invaluable insight that may forever alter our modes of governance, including streamlining the policy making process.

Indeed, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has already evidenced its potential to increase global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations worldwide. On the supply side, technological advancements have increased the efficiency and productivity of global supply chains, which in turn has reduced the cost of trade, opened new markets, and driven economic growth.

As leaders of government, business and academia hold multiple fora on the future of the technology, it is expected that the same will centre on the means through which technological advancements can be harnessed to drive sustainable and inclusive growth with respect to the global economy. This includes ensuring that the benefits of technology trickle down to disadvantages groups, and have a direct impact on these disenfranchised groups, including increasing their ability to effectively participate in the global society.

 

Perhaps a key consideration with respect to the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the impact of the same on Africa. Traditionally viewed as playing catch-up with the rest of the world, the continent is viewed by some as being on the frontline of reaping benefits from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with technological advancements promising to address crucial problems faced by populations within the continent across a vast array of sectors, including health, finance, labour and digital literacy.

On the finance front, the expansion of mobile digital financial services within the continent has increased access to financial services, including access to credit, thereby playing a significant role in improving living standards. Pioneer mobile financial services, such as M-Pesa, have ensured that even the most disadvantaged groups have access to formal financial services thereby empowering these groups to escape the latches of poverty through financial inclusion.

Similarly, on the labour front, the Fourth Industrial Revolution presents significant opportunities to Africa’s growing labour force. Specifically, technology has assisted in ensuring that access to information is on the rise, thereby aiding the dissemination of skills and capabilities required in the advancing job market. Provided that these skills and capabilities are harnessed positively, it is expected that employment opportunities will be matched by a capable and highly skilled labour force.

Karen Kandie – MD IDB Capital