UJ hosts 4IR policy colloquium

Johannesburg – In an industrial development programme called South African Research Chair in Industrial
Development (Sarchi), the University of Johannesburg (UJ) recently hosted a colloquium about the Fourth
Industrial Revolution (4IR).
This came at a time when the Presidential Committee on 4IR was preparing to submit a draft report with policy
direction recommendations to President Cyril Ramaphosa in January, to be availed for public comment in March
2020.
To determine where South Africa is in terms of 4IR technology adoption, especially automation and robotics,
France-based University of Côte d’Azur Economics Professor Edward Lorenz said Sarchi had been working on a
project called Deep Dive, which gathered literature about the effects of 4IR on industry.
“South Africa is not at the cusp of a technological singularity that will replace human labour in the short term.
While we have some aggregate data on robots, we know very little about the adoption of 4IR technologies such as
artificial intelligence, especially in developing countries. While aggregate data can give information about broad
levels of adoption, it cannot tell us about firm-level heterogeneity in the use of 4IR technologies; specific problems
in production systems and the impact on skills and employment in different firms,” Lorenz noted.
He added that there is a need for firm-level evidence on the 4IR, because that would provide policy-relevant
information on employers’ motives for adopting technologies, as well as the challenges they face in integrating
new technologies.
Sarchi found that in the automotive industry only larger firms were using robots and other automation
technologies.
Deep Dive also determined that there is growing interest in big data and machine learning, but little evidence that
it was being used.
Lorenz explained that legacy firms were diversifying from electrical and mechanical engineering services, taking
advantage of the new technological possibilities related to the Internet of Things and the use of data.
However, the firms that participated in the Deep Dive survey reported that, although they were incorporating 4IR
technologies in their businesses, there was a lack of demand for their products, owing to users’ lack of awareness
of the benefits of 4IR technologies or the lack of skills to use them.
These firms then often had to persuade potential users to try the technology or transfer knowledge and provide
training for engineers and technicians.
Lorenz suggested that the South African government had its work cut out for it to create more awareness of the
benefits of these technologies, as well as to address the skills gap issues related to 4IR implementation.

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