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24/08/2018

This article appeared in The Herald of 24 August 2018, written by Odette Parfitt - parfitto@tisoblackstar.co.za

With the fourth industrial revolution on the horizon, SA and other developing countries need to find a way to “catch the wave”, or be swamped by it.

This was the message from department of international relations and co-operation chief director Dave Malcomson, who was speaking at the two-day Brics and African development conference in Port Elizabeth.

The conference, which is being co-hosted by the department, Nelson Mandela University and the Human Sciences Research Council, started at the NMU business school on Thursday.

It brought together researchers and government and business leaders from various developing countries to discuss how the SA economy can be developed through the Brics network.

Giving feedback from the recent Brics summit, Malcomson said a working group on the fourth industrial revolution is to be set up to examine future opportunities and threats.

This revolution, CIPPEC (an Argentina think tank) senior researcher Ramiro Albrieu explained, is linked to various technologies, including blockchain technology and artificial intelligence.

“These technologies reshape the way we produce, consume and trade,” Albrieu said.

He said SA and Latin America had no plans in place to absorb these disruptive technologies, whereas other countries were closer to being ready.

“It’s not obvious that we’ll benefit from this revolution.

“The problem with emerging economies is that with disruptive technology in the past, some countries led and became winners, and others became losers – and the effects [of this loss] were permanent.

“The idea is that this time is different because we have open source technology and leapfrogging is easier than in the past, but we can look through an optimistic lens or we can think about the mistakes [we made] in the past.”

Albrieu said the toughest challenge would be managing the transition to more advanced technologies.

“The underlying transition is that we will [have to] reskill everyone.

“[This could] potentially change the way we teach, and [could require] implementing policies [to address the widening income inequality].”

SA Brics Think Tanks chair Prof Ari Sitas also emphasised the need for strategies ahead of the global change.

“Artificial intelligence will not define the development model, but I’m afraid we’re jumping in without having a development concept,” he said.

“The [research] around manufacturing [in the future] reads like a doomsday scenario.

“We need to avoid a new developmental cul-de-sac – [and] this conference is a vital part of the thinking required to reach a development concept.”

Keynote speaker and small business development minister Lindiwe Zulu said the New Development Bank – which was formed within Brics to offer financial support to development projects – would also have to play a crucial role in propelling SA forward, by financing projects focused on the industrial revolution.

“For SA to be heard and seen, we need to get to the platforms [for the world to know us],” Zulu said.

 

“If we feel like a little sister [to more developed countries], we [must believe we] will get to where they are.”

Picture: EUGENE COETZEE PLATFORMS NEEDED: Small business development minister Lindiwe Zulu speaks at the Brics conference.

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