This question was asked and answered by Barry Dwolatzky and Mark Harris (referred to as "the authors" in this article) of Wits University. The pair used the progress or lack of it with respect to an e-justice system that was proposed during Mandela's time and still has not been implemented.
Their study was a comparative study that focused on the gap between the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution in South Africa ("the commission") and what is really happening on the ground. They concluded that there is a huge gap between the country's 4IR strategy and what the commission has recommended.
Barry and Mark looked at each of the commission's recommendations and mapped it to the country's reality. (The failed e-justice system was their proxy for reality - they claimed that this project was typical of SA government-led technology interventions).
I (Edzai C.Zvobwo of MathsGee), will review the review by the authors.
Recommendation 1: Invest in human capital development
The authors concur with the commission that the skills challenge is real but pointed out that government-employee apathy was at the centre of the lack of progress in implementing transformative technological changes. Worker unions and asociations were also fingered key players in impeding progress.
Clearly the authors are arguing that before the government invests into human capital development, the necessary conditions have to be created to allow the current government employees and their unions to appreciate the benefits of digital transformation. Stakeholder buy-in is a necessary and sufficient condition for the success of any human development intervention.
I beg to differ wiith the authors as I am of the firm belief that skills development and user buyer are not mutually exclusive and need not be sequential. I am of the conviction that concurrency is the solution. Both can be achieved simultaneously.
Recommendation 2: Establish an Artificial Intelligence Institute
The purpose of the institute would be to enhance AI skills and innovation. The authors argue that the country has failed to take advantage of existing technologies that could have exponentially increased government efficiencies. They argue that if the country cannot thrive as a super-user of technology, then how could they possibly succedd as an OEM of advanced technology. The argument stems from the philosophy of " How can you do higher-order functions well, when you cannot do the simple things well?".
One might be tempted to argue that there is a need to leapfrog the "good super-user" stage and dive into the OEM space, but I beg to differ. Leapfrogging is a consequence of knowing how to use current technology as a "power-user" and then demanding more from the technology resulting in new functionalities and products. This leads me to conclude that i concur with the authors on this point.
Recommendation 3: Establish a platform for advanced manufacturing and new materials
The authors did not have a say on this point as it was out of scope with respect to their e-justice system scenario.
I am of the thought that establishing a platform for advanced manufacturing and new materials is the best thing that the country can do to accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies. Platforms allow new producers and consumers of technology to directly exchange value whilst delegating the technical responsibility to the platform itself. Facebook is a case in point. One does not need to know the Pytorch framework to be able to produce or consume information on the platform. As a consequence of the lowered the barrier to entry by the platform, users will learn skills that they otherwise would never had. Facebook and Youtube have been the biggest digital literacy courses on the internet to date.
Recommendation 3: Secure and avail data to enable innovation
This is a no-brainer, we need to create scalable ways to collect, store, process and extract insights from data. This is fundamental, thus it comes as no surprise that the authors agreed with the commission as much as I did with them.
Recommendation 4: Provide incentives for future industries, platforms and applications of 4IR technologies
On this point, the authors disagree with the commission and believe that innovation is not the problem but implementaton.
I disagree with the authors because they have taken a stance whereby they have assumed that innovation precedes implementation. These incentives are meant to stimulate both and it is necessary to state that there is a need for innovation in implementation which cancels out the dicotomous approach taken by the authors. Why they have focused on innovation and implementation as two separate is puzzling.
For any revolution to take place, the participants have to be focused on achieving change, this usually comes from a point of frustration with the status quo. Based on behavioural economics, it has been shown that well-designed incentives have can work in coercing stakeholders to go full-stem ahead with the adoption and promotion of new technologies.
I am of the opinion that beyond statutory incentives, there needs to be benefits for all that no one has to sell. These intrinsic benefits are typically found in well-crafted platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook among others. Some of these characteristics are:
- Greater user control
- ease of use
- perception of greater value
- less red tape
- more choice
- More broadly accepted
- more direct means to an end
- fewer or no middle people
- user-defined experience
To conclude on this point, I agree conditionally agree with the commission that incentives to adopt and apply emerging technology is needed. My condition is that the pre-requisites of skills, employee and union buy-in should have been achieved which allows for well-designed incentive schemes to flourish.
Recommendation 5: Build 4IR infrastructure
It is obvious that for South Africa to meaningfully participate in the fourth industrial revolution and beyond, the necessary infrastructure should be in place. Some have argued that ownership of the backbone infrastructure is the information age what land was in the feudal system. It is the new means of production.
A case in point is whereby application developers in Africa are developing and hosting in the Google Play Store of iStore. Apple and Google own the infrastructure thus all Africans are essentially working for these glbal tech giants. These companies have a view on everything we do, they even know us than our own governments do.
Building 4IR infrastructure is the axiomatic, there is no need to motivate why its necessary.
Recommendation 6: Review and amend (or create) policy and legislation
The commission, authors and I concur that policies and procedures must move with the times. There is a need for agile policygeneration to ensure that we develop optimally. This is a relevant recommendation.
Recommendation 7: Establish a 4IR Strategy Implementation Coordination Council in the presidency
The authors are not convinced by this recommendation unless a clear mandate and powers are given to this council. Many a council has been formed for various initiatives with mixed results thus it is a bureacratic recommendation that needs definiteness of purpose.
It is also important to note that revolutions cannot be legislated into existence. Revolutions are chaotic and complex and can lead to unintended consequences thus the council will have to reckon the fact that individual actors, state and non-state are the custodians of the success of any revolution.
I concur with the authors, we dont need another council, we need results.
The commission's recommendations are welcome as they spark debate on what needs to be done in order to take advantage of the technological advancement that are changing business models and life as we know it. It is my hope that a space is created for all to contribute to the 4IR brain trust so as to achieve success and leave a lasting legacy for future South African generations.
The review of the commission's recommendation by the authors is welcome and this should be encouraged at much broader level so that the battles of ideas will lead to the solutions being adopted to move the country forward.
My review of the review was a kneejack reaction to the authors' review of the commission's report. It is my wish that the people in the decision-making positions will read it and hopefully take time to think of the opinions contained in this article.
It is imperative that we all join and contribute to realisation of the best outomes for South Africa in the new world order.