Speech delivered by the Deputy Minister of Communications Hon. Pinky Kekana, MP at the IBM Think Johannesburg 2018 conference held at the Kayalami Race Track and Conference Centre
Let me start by thanking the IBM Country General Manager, Mr Hamilton Ratshefola and his wonderful team for extending this invitation to me, I feel honoured and privileged to be part of this prestigious event.
I must confess I am very intrigued by the conference theme: Where Humanity Meets Technology.
Particularly because, this conference comes at a time where we are at the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, in his inaugural State of the Nation Address has flagged this as one of governments imminent priorities when he said We will soon establish a Digital Industrial Revolution Commission, which will include the private sector and civil society, to ensure that our country is in a position to seize the opportunities and manage the challenges of rapid advances in information and communication technology.
I certainly hope that all of you seated in this room will raise your hand and say Thuma Mina Mr President to that Commission:
I wanna be there when the technology starts to turn it around.
When technology helps us triumph over poverty.
I wanna be there when the technology helps stop the surge in cash in transit heists.
I wanna lend a hand to catch hackers who steal our private data.
I wanna lend a hand to the SABC to broadcast digital content.
Ladies and gentlemen
The historical record of humanity shows that humanity has always been fascinated by technology and the relationship has been a very intimate one. In fact the world renowned American theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman John Dyson once proclaimed that: Technology is a gift from God. After the gift of Life it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilizations, of arts and sciences.
Even our very own stalwart, former President Nelson Mandela linked Humanity to technology in a profound way when he said: Communication technologies have transformed the way people live and the manner in which countries develop. They have the potential to enable us to solve many of the critical problems confronting us. If this potential is to be realised, then we must find ways of turning these technologies into a resource for all people despite the challenges they face within their communities.
The logical questions for all of us in this room today, is how do we ensure that technology goes beyond meeting humanity? How do we ensure that it bridges the socio-economic inequalities faced by all of humanity? Or to put it in the words of these two great men, how do we ensure that this gift from God becomes a resource for people, from all walks of life? When I speak of people from various social classes, I mean people from the small towns like Bela-Bela to mega cities like Johannesburg.
The advent of technology has augmented our lives in ways which we could not have imagined, if you told me 10 years ago that we would have a self-driving car, a smart speaker, artificial intelligence, 3D printing biotechnology and virtual reality rooted in our everyday life just like computers, phones or electricity. I would not have known what you are talking about. But this is the world we live in today.
These developments are not only sensational but they are both disruptive and enriching. For a country like ours, this rapid evolution brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution is becoming immensely noticeable. It is not just another Buzz Word.
If someone was to ask, what does the Fourth Industrial Revolution mean for someone in the far flung corners of South Africa? Someone in the middle of Burgersfort or UMhlabauyalingana.
Our reply as Government would be, better Health Care, quality basic education. With the proper deployment of technology we have redefined, the manner in which our citizens, obtain these very essential rudimentary services from our government.
In the field of education, technology enables educators to get learners engaged, improve their participation, performance, and most importantly, make learning more fun.
In the health sector we should be able to create a service that reduces the need to travel out of the region if not immediate community for consultation. The more of those rands that can be kept locally the better off the local economy will be.
I am confident that technology makes it possible to have the best heart surgeon in Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town link up with a Heart Surgeon in Mankweng Hospital in Polokwane to facilitate an operation on a patient, not be prohibited by time and distance.
Government acknowledges that for this great nation to fully reap the fruits of the fourth industrial revolution, we need to invest in the requisite infrastructure and skills. We must constantly assess, how we future proof our children in a society that is constantly changing. The time has come for us to introduce basic coding in our education system.
The growth of technology also is requires us to examine what humanity would look like in 5 to 15 years from now and how do we prepare ourselves for that particular society. The examination must also extend to the question of employment.
McKinsey recently published a report stating that 45% of all current tasks could be automated with present technology and the World Economic Forum estimates that 33 percent of jobs in 2020 do not even exist yet.
In the automotive sector we have already seen how artificial intelligence has replaced manual labour. In the mining sector we know that other countries have opted for artificial intelligence to mine their ore. It is common course that technology improves productivity and increases the bottom line of firms, therefore we need to ensure that this does not exacerbate the rampant inequality we are currently confronted with as a nation. Some of the interventions the ANC led government has initiated in addressing inequality is through the introduction of smart class rooms and the introduction of Free Tertiary Education.
We will continue to encourage entrepreneurship, we will double down on infrastructure, and we will make sure that our education educational system provide appropriate skills for the digital economy.
We are moving into an economy that’s heavy on technology and light on labor therefore it is crucial that we consider smart interventions.
The rise of technology should not make us anxious, the evolution of jobs, should not deter us from moving forward to an automated society. But as we do so, we must be conscious not to leave others behind. This should be alleviated by putting measures in place to ensure that citizens are reskilled and we adopt new learning methods for the nation.
As government tackles the barriers to entry through policy interventions, our highly unionized labour sectors should also invest in skills development to address the challenges that come with digitisation.
We remain committed to address the cost to communicate, that in itself is a significant barrier to entry for Small to Medium Enterprises.
Ladies and gentlemen
I have no doubt that, challenges that we are facing in all sectors including fake news, cyber security attacks, human and child trafficking which include the exchange of child sex abuse material, can be seen as opportunities to which technology can find long lasting solutions towards. Even government has to use technology to change the manner in which citizens’ interface with critical basic services
I would like to assure you that I will be the messenger in chief, when it comes to seeing technology as an enabler instead of a threat, because I have agreed to be sent. Ngi-ya Thumeka and where there are challenges we must rise.
Technology will continue to redefine Humanity.
I started this address with a quote from a mathematician and a legendary citizen, I would like to end it with a quote from someone you are even more familiar, Thomas J Watson, who once said: The great accomplishments of man have resulted from the transmission of ideas and enthusiasm.
I wish you a fruitful conference as you think about humanity and technology.
Thank you very much!
Source: Government of South Africa