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Fourth Industrial Revolution


Are the technologies that surround us tools that we can identify, grasp and consciously use to improve our lives? Or are they more than that: powerful objects and enablers that influence our perception of the world, change our behavior and affect what it means to be human?

Technologies are emerging and affecting our lives in ways that indicate we are at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, a new era that builds and extends the impact of digitization in new and unanticipated ways. It is therefore worthwhile taking some time to consider exactly what kind of shifts we are experiencing and how we might, collectively and individually, ensure that it creates benefits for the many, rather than the few.

When were the other industrial revolutions?

The First Industrial Revolution is widely taken to be the shift from our reliance on animals, human effort and biomass as primary sources of energy to the use of fossil fuels and the mechanical power this enabled. The Second Industrial Revolution occurred between the end of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, and brought major breakthroughs in the form of electricity distribution, both wireless and wired communication, the synthesis of ammonia and new forms of power generation. The Third Industrial Revolution began in the 1950s with the development of digital systems, communication and rapid advances in computing power, which have enabled new ways of generating, processing and sharing information.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution can be described as the advent of “cyber-physical systems” involving entirely new capabilities for people and machines. While these capabilities are reliant on the technologies and infrastructure of the Third Industrial Revolution, the Fourth Industrial Revolution represents entirely new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even our human bodies. Examples include genome editing, new forms of machine intelligence, breakthrough materials and approaches to governance that rely on cryptographic methods such as the blockchain.


Why should entrepreneurs and aspiring young professionals consider the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

History has proven that industrial revolutions have similar patterns. They start with new means of communication, disruptive discoveries and technological improvements that ultimately advances the entire human race. However, it is true that the full effect of the industrial revolutions are yet to be seen in many countries, as the famous novelist William Gibson said: “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” 

The opportunity lies in this uneven distribution, especially as Africans. The Western parts of the world are considered to have large sums of investment funds, Asia stereotypically have the technology and manufacturing plants, however – Africa has the market. In terms of advancements, Africa is considered to be lacking behind, but also the most prone to leapfrog to the most optimized solutions. Leapfrogging is the occurrence where industry leaders continually make marginal improvements, while the previously dispositioned jump to the most optimized solutions. An example of this is in Nigeria, where the electricity grid was previously underdeveloped and can only supply electricity to about half of the population – this offers a great opportunity for the emergence of renewable energy.

Unfortunately, many technologies emerging from the Fourth Industrial Revolution are focussed on enhancing human capabilities (augmented reality, virtual reality, machine learning) and in some cases replacing humans with machines (Artificial intelligence). It is crucial to take this into consideration when choosing a career direction as some careers are more prone to change than others. See the   Future of jobs report for more detailed information on how future jobs will increasingly require complex problem-solving, social and systems skills.

As millennials, we have the advantage of growing up with technologies that familiarise us with the context that we find ourselves in. Even more, if the youth act pro-actively and considers themselves pioneers as opposed to users of these technologies, then we will see a great impact by our generation.

This brings us to the opportunity of e-commerce. 

E-commerce has already influenced the way that people shop. People shop online from home, at work or even when commuting. This saves a lot of time and very often good deals can be found online.

The opportunity of e-commerce stretches far beyond the luxury of shopping from home. E-commerce removes all geographical restrictions allowing someone to buy and sell globally to a much larger market. The purpose of this course is to enlighten students of additional opportunities that the Fourth Industrial Revolution offers in all its magnitude of unevenness and opportunities – especially for African millennials. The window of opportunity to position ourselves for greatness is upon our generation. 


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