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by Alex Kinmont

Technology is rapidly changing the fabric of our time. We need to adapt the way we live, personally and professionally, before we are left behind. The question is, how?

On Friday we had Professor Daniel Mashao, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at UJ and Stafford Masie, the first CEO of Google of Southern Africa discuss the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the effects it will have on business and society.

Prof. Mashao defined 4IR in three parts – new technologies, new business models and new value systems.

New Technologies

Smartphones and slim laptops are only the surface of new tech and what it can do. Robotics, virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI) are the next leaps in technological advancement.

Masie describes AI as the “superpower” of 4IR. He sees the future ‘everywhereness’ of AI as rendering it intangible and invisible. Like electricity, it will become so streamlined within our lives that we won’t even recognise its presence. We will only experience it.

“It’s not the Internet of Things,” says Masie, where people and objects are connected via devices with wifi. “It’s the Internet in Things”, transversally, just like electricity.

New Business Models

These new technologies are redesigning the future and how we see the world. As a result, professional success is reliant on how well we adapt to, and utilise, these changes. Businesses must take on new structures in order to best utilise advances in tech.

Old ways of doing cannot sustain new ways of being.

Business need to evolve into algorithmic marketplaces. Professor Mashao points out successful digital businesses Uber and Airbnb. As the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb owns no property. As the world’s largest taxi company, Uber owns no cars.

We are all a part of Uber. We input our information, rate our drivers and travel in traffic. We use Uber, and in using Uber, we allow it to grow and continue. Uber owns no assets; instead, they use technological advances in geolocation and personal credit and compliment that with people and their own resources.

Latent Human Potential

Masie champions the value of humans and their creative capabilities. He explains that Uber is a platform, and not a traditional business, which combines advancements in tech with human potential. This is what makes them giants in the digital landscape.

Where machines can replace our mundane jobs, they can never imagine like we can.

Businesses who wish to thrive in the new digital landscape must take on an algorithmic marketplace model. Masie explains that businesses must recognise “latent human potential and let it cascade in”. Machines must not replace humans; they must provide a platform from which humans can fully exercise their creative abilities.

Uber, and other apps like Netflix, Alibaba and social media, have realised the key to keeping up with new technologies and the changing way of life and business. They recognise unique human potential and how it would be a waste to let machines replace the people in a business. Rather, machines must free up the time of employees to do more creative and complex work.

This is how we can prevent machines from taking our jobs.

Self-driving cars don’t have to take the jobs of drivers. Through AI, a driver can own a fleet of automated vehicles. Robots don’t have to take the jobs of stock takers. With automation, a warehouse worker can programme an army of box packing machines.

New Value Systems

It is important to note here that Uber and Airbnb are only possible with the new value system of digital trust. Online ratings on these apps allow hosts and drivers, guests and travellers, to build an archive of reviews and earn a grade in order to prove their honesty and reliability. Where machines cannot earn trust, an innately human function, they can be adapted to provide a platform from which its users can input data and create trust.

The future of jobs doesn’t have to be mass unemployment. Your business does not have to crumble under the waves of change.

Technology and its advancements will change life as we know it. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming and we need to adapt if we wish to keep up. Our businesses need to welcome the shortcuts of technology and move redundant employees upwards to better use their cognitive and creative abilities. We must let our latent human potential cascade in. Like with the Uber trust model, we must recognise the possibilities of humans and tech working together.

Masie concludes that if we lose our jobs it will not be because of technology. It will be because we weren’t imaginative enough.

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