Johannesburg – British billionaire Sir Richard Branson has warned against the fourth industrial revolution, in which technologies and trends including robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way of life and work.
Last Thursday Virgin Atlantic chairman Branson hosted the Business is an Adventure event in Johannesburg, in partnership with Investec.
He said while humanity is likely to continue benefiting from technology, it may lead to job losses.
Branson was part of a panel which also featured Fani Titi, Investec chief executive and Kim Reid, CEO and founder of Takealot.com.
Reid said businesses need to get a grip on data. “Businesses with more data will fare better than businesses without, because that data fuels machine learning and AI,” he said.
Branson said: “I think people will benefit from health, education, safety in cars, and many other things. There is the danger that it is going to cost jobs. Companies and governments have to start thinking of how we are going to make sure that people are employed if AI comes in. You could argue that new jobs will be created in different areas, but I just don’t think there is going to be enough new areas.”
Titi said both people and technology are crucial to the overall outcome. He said the choice between human connection and technology or data, is a false choice. “We believe in doing both. We believe we can be high touch on the one hand, and high tech. We believe that through human connection, we can do more for our clients.”
He said that people can become overwhelmed with data. “The job of humans is to de-clutter that data through human connection, to make sense of it.”
Reid said technology is coming. He called on the government to address the current standard of education, and that particular focus needs to be placed on maths and science.
Branson said it is not just up to government to create better environments. “Businesses need to draw a circle around themselves, and those circles will start overlapping and you can start working with neighbouring businesses to lift the local community.”