Cape Times

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 or visit

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