The Fu­ture Just Ar­rived – But is South Africa Ready?


IN JUST over a month’s time, South Africans will come face-to-face with Sophia, the world’s first ever hu­manoid ro­bot. Yes, a hu­manoid, a ro­bot that is both me­chan­i­cal but has hu­man char­ac­ter­is­tics and learn­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Sophia show­cases how ma­chine learn­ing, big data and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence can be har­nessed in­ter­act with hu­mans.

We in­vited Sophia and her cre­ator David Han­son to this coun­try to ad­dress an im­por­tant is­sue fac­ing our coun­try. Are we ready for the Fourth In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion?

Dr Han­son and Sophia will be the key­note speak­ers at the an­nual Davos for Hu­man Cap­i­tal event on July 11 in Jo­han­nes­burg. Here over 500 hun­dred busi­ness lead­ers and mem­bers of the pub­lic sec­tor will get a glimpse of the im­pact of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment which awaits us all. Cisco’s Pub­lic Pol­icy Direc­tor for Africa, Char­maine Hou­vet, will fa­cil­i­tate this dis­cus­sion on what our fu­ture holds.

For South Africa the con­se­quences are un­cer­tain. Many jobs and sec­tors of our econ­omy will not ex­ist af­ter the revo­lu­tion. New and un­imag­in­able op­por­tu­ni­ties will arise. This brings with it a fear of change, par­tic­u­larly in a coun­try with high un­em­ploy­ment and chal­lenges within our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

It is heart­en­ing how­ever that this is an is­sue that has seized the Union Build­ings too through Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s ap­point­ment of a 30-per­son fourth in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion com­mis­sion.

It is ini­tia­tives like this that give me hope. Fear must be re­placed with lead­er­ship. This is the only way we can meet the chal­lenges head-on and pre­pare for a bet­ter fu­ture for our peo­ple.

The Pres­i­dent’s com­mis­sion will be chaired by him­self and co-chaired by Uni­ver­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg vice chan­cel­lor Tshilidzi Mar­wala. In an ef­fort to bridge the gap be­tween gov­ern­ment and big busi­ness Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa has wisely in­cluded top lo­cal CEOs like Vo­da­com’s Shameel Joosub, Mul­ti­choice’s Calvo Mawela and Africa Teen Geeks’ Lindiwe Mat­lali.

The play­ing fields are chang­ing ev­ery day, lead­ers need to adapt quicker than ever be­fore. It’s no longer a ques­tion of teach­ing spe­cific skills but learn­ing to in­spire oth­ers as we har­ness that which can­not be repli­cated; our in­tu­ition and our cre­ativ­ity to this brave new world that is si­mul­ta­ne­ously lib­er­at­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing. If we fail to pre­pare South Africa at this junc­ture, we will only have suc­ceeded in pre­par­ing our coun­try – and the gen­er­a­tions that fol­low - to fail.

We can­not al­low this to hap­pen. Em­ploy­ers will have to take charge of train­ing to pro­vide them with the adap­tive skills re­quired, while uni­ver­si­ties will need to pre­pare stu­dents with a bal­ance of learn­ing skills that en­hance not just left-brain math­e­mat­i­cal and tech­ni­cal abil­i­ties but also right-brain cre­ativ­ity which machines are not ca­pa­ble of.

Duke Cor­po­rate Ed­u­ca­tion’s Davos of Hu­man Cap­i­tal is struc­tured to spark that con­ver­sa­tion where it hasn’t started yet and to con­tinue it from where we left off last year. We must an­swer ques­tions of where to col­lab­o­rate across sec­tors, in­sti­tu­tions and even na­tional bor­ders to en­sure that we prop­erly dis­cover and thor­oughly ex­ploit the op­por­tu­ni­ties that lie be­fore us.

Sophia is not there as a fair­ground at­trac­tion, but will be there to pro­voke us to start re­ally think­ing and talk­ing about how we step over the thresh­old into the much-sto­ried fourth in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion, where phrases like ‘ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence’ and ‘ma­chine learn­ing’ are used with­out a true un­der­stand­ing.

Car mak­ers get this. Al­ready the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try has stopped look­ing at it­self as a man­u­fac­turer of ve­hi­cles but rather a de­signer of in­tel­li­gent mo­bil­ity so­lu­tions where your ve­hi­cle is a seam­less con­tin­u­a­tion of your smart­phone. In the near fu­ture you will likely hail a car us­ing your phone, and the driver could be a hu­manoid just like Sophia.

This week the Fi­nan­cial Times of Lon­don ranked Duke CE num­ber 1 in Africa for the 11th year in a row in cus­tomised ex­ec­u­tive ed­u­ca­tion. We are com­mit­ted to help­ing lead­ers con­tin­u­ously re­de­fine their strate­gies for the fu­ture and to un­lock new po­ten­tial as we face an un­cer­tain to­mor­row.

What we do know is; the hu­manoids have ar­rived. Get used to it.

Sharmla Chetty is Duke CE’s Pres­i­dent for Africa and Global Man­ag­ing Direc­tor for Africa and Europe. Duke CE has been ranked first in Cus­tom Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­u­ca­tion in Africa by the Fi­nan­cial Times of Lon­don. To find out more about the Davos of Hu­man Cap­i­tal event, email Ju­lia Cook at Ju­ or visit

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