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Industry 4.0 a tipping point for Africa's wealth gap

Nearly 400 delegates from 18 African countries attended NEC XON's 7th annual summit at Sun City, in South Africa.

Carel Coetzee, CEO, NEC XON.

Speakers explored methods for Africa to harness the fourth industrial revolution to overcome the continent's numerous challenges.

"Industry 4.0 is the culmination of connectivity, processing power that never existed 10 years ago, and the algorithms today that make sense of a new wealth of data at our disposal," says Carel Coetzee, CEO of NEC XON. "That's why artificial intelligence, or AI, machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks are such buzzwords today. Industrial revolutions are characterised by transforming economies, jobs, and society itself. It's true that this new revolution will take millions of jobs. But, it will also create myriad new jobs and opportunities for our societies."

Hironobu Kurosaki, CEO and president of NEC Europe, says the fourth industrial revolution can be harnessed to help us manage some of Africa's most significant current challenges.

"The world's growing population requires us to optimise available resources," says Kurosaki. "We can improve agricultural productivity to produce more food. We are working with partners to create solutions for social challenges using technologies such as biometrics for safer cities, more secure societies, and to help us build societies of more equal opportunities and efficient services."

Industrial revolutions, however, notes futurist Craig Wing, risk polarising societies along economic lines.

"In the first industrial revolution, output per worker increased, but the real wage remained the same. All that extra profitability went to the owners of the technology and increased the divide between rich and poor. We run the same risk today," he says.

For Industry 4.0 to be Africa's hero, the theme running through the summit, he says the potential is greatest in the mega-African cities of today and the future, as well as the large urban centres. But, in the agricultural regions, it all depends on the decisions we make today.

He says: "Stephen Hawking said that if machines produce all we need then everyone will be wealthy, if everything is shared, or the technology owners will be super-wealthy and most people super-poor, which is where we are headed today."

Innovator and futurist Stafford Masie says the correct way to think about AI is to understand that, in future, many AIs will combine and collaborate to change the way we operate in the world.

"Humans today are being augmented, not just connected," he says, and adds, "…harnessing the latent human capital outside the firewall in the context of your organisation…" will be the biggest challenge for commercial and government organisations.

He says people are afraid they will lose jobs to these new technologies. People should gladly relinquish their mundane, labour-intensive jobs to machines so they can improve their lot. "Humans have a higher calling," he says. "People hate their jobs, but [most of them] are trapped doing what a machine can do better."

Yarob Sakhnini, head of Middle East, Turkey, and Africa for Juniper Networks, says: "The infrastructures that we currently build and use have to evolve to accommodate industry 4.0 application traffic. All the innovative solutions revolving around industry 4.0 applications will not run smoothly on legacy infrastructures, so a transformation journey has to be started, and this comprises five steps."

Juniper Networks was a platinum sponsor. ADVA Optical Networking, Forcepoint, Fortinet, Schneider Electric, Symantec and Trend Micro were gold sponsors.


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