Public Lecture on the 4th Industrial Revolution by Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala

The Vice Chancellor of University of Johannesburg, Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala delivered a public lecture on the 4th Industrial Revolution on Wednesday 27th March 2019 at 8.30 am in the CEDAT Conference Hall.

Prof. Marwala delivers the public lecture at CEDAT

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is the fourth major industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres, collectively referred to as cyber-physical systems. It is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), decentralized consensus, fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), additive manufacturing/3D printing and fully autonomous vehicles.

During his lecture, Prof. Marwala took the audience through the history of the industrial revolutions. He reminded the people present of the triggers for the different revolutions for example, the first was sparked by knowledge formulation, the second was brought about by knowledge evolution, the third by knowledge disctribution. He pointed out that the motivation for the fourth industrial revolution is knowledge mutation.

Prof. Marwala then talked about the implications of the Fourth Insudtrial Revolution on Economics, Politics, Psychology, Medical Sciences and Engineering. In economics for example, this revolution leads to a reduction in information asymmetry. Also when human traders are replaced by artificially intelligent traders then factors such as emotion are subtracted from the markets, more decisions are made purely based on data which makes for more efficient markets. In medical sciences, we are beginning to see more efficient diagnosis of disease, treatment and even medical implants of greater compatibility with the patients. In engineering, it is now possible to monitor the health conditions of vehicles, accurately predict lifespan of structures among others.

In Agriculture, AI-powered machine vision systems can measure crop populations and detect weeds or plant pests, and use robotic sprayers to precisely apply herbicides. Bioengineered plants are leading to greater crop yields and new medicines, such as antimalarial drugs produced from genetically modified tobacco plants.

Prof. Marwala however also pointed out some negative consequences of the 4th IR. He cited Irrelevance in the 4thIR versus exploitation of 1stIR, Increased inequality and Bounded freedom and Bounded decision making by humans. Because every day, billions of people are sharing online. They’re using connected devices (phones, laptops, tablet pcs) to post images, videos, and tweets. They’re sending text messages. All of this data is like food for artificial intelligence and many companies are willing to pay top dollar for this data, even if it means infringing on the privacy of their subscribers.