Innovation Surge: Africa’s Pioneering Tech-Driven Transformation

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The dawn of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) is ushering in a transformative era, often called Industry 4.0. This groundbreaking shift is redefining industrial operations, prompting a reevaluation of the role of human labour in the face of advanced machines.

As these machines evolve, often outpacing human capabilities, it’s imperative to reflect on the future roles for humans and the broader implications if AI surpasses our intelligence.

Originating from a 2011 industrial trade fair in Hanover, “Industry 4.0” signifies the fourth industrial revolution. This progression began with steam and water power, transitioned to electricity, and then to computer data processing. The process transcends mere automation, emphasizing system integration where machines make data-driven decisions.

The envisioned future factory will house robots executing tasks with unparalleled precision, spanning sectors from food production to transportation. For instance, robots might soon prepare meals for families or maintain elevators in skyscrapers, minimizing human intervention.

However, Africa’s journey through the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) presents a dual-edged sword. While low-skilled or repetitive jobs, such as assembly line workers or drivers, are at risk, the digital economy’s expansion heralds new opportunities in software development, AI, machine learning, and green energy sectors.

The healthcare and education sectors, inherently human-centric, will likely remain less automated, offering potential job growth with suitable educational investments.

Agriculture, a significant employment source in Africa, is undergoing a technological metamorphosis. While some manual tasks might decline, roles in agricultural technology, like drone operations, precision farming, and data analytics, are rising, promising enhanced production and growth.

The key lies in equipping the African workforce with the skills for these emerging opportunities. Companies must either upskill their employees or onboard new talent to stay competitive significantly as Asia accelerates its automation efforts.

While some manual labour jobs in agriculture may decrease, there will be a rise in careers related to agricultural technology. This includes roles in drone operation, precision farming, and agricultural data analysis, which will likely increase production and facilitate growth for the continent. The key for Africa, like the rest of the world, is to focus on education and training programs that prepare the workforce for these new opportunities.

Companies are encouraged to modernize their factories, train their staff for new tasks, or recruit new staff. Those who hesitate may be left behind. The revolution is also gaining traction in Asia, with companies interested in maximizing their productivity and efficiency through automation.

The philosophical ramifications of AI and automation are profound. As we grapple with machines surpassing us in specific domains, we must nurture human-exclusive skills like creativity, intuition, and emotional intelligence. Despite its vast potential, Africa still faces challenges in fully embracing Industry 4.0. However, the continent’s ICT sector, driven by mobile digital financial services, shows promise.

However, the rise of automation and AI also raises philosophical questions. Are we creating something that will outlive us or something that we can live in relative harmony? As machines become better than us in certain areas, we must consider what will be left for humans.

This calls for a shift in education and development skills that machines do not have, such as creativity, intuition, and emotional intelligence. So far, it does not appear that Africa has yet claimed the 21st century, as it still lags behind in several indicators essential for a successful digital revolution.

Improvements in Africa’s ICT sector have been primarily driven by expanding mobile digital financial services: The region had nearly half of global mobile money accounts in 2018 and will see the fastest growth in mobile money through 2025.

AI and blockchain are gaining traction in Africa, offering solutions to socio-economic challenges. The transformative power of 4IR in Africa is immense, from spurring economic growth and modernizing agriculture to digitization’s role in boosting the GDP and job creation. By 2030, Africa’s workforce could be one of the world’s largest.

Paired with the proper infrastructure and skills, the 4IR could be a game-changer for the continent. For example, the ICT sector in Africa has continued to grow, a trend that is likely to continue. Mobile technologies and services have generated 1.7 million direct jobs (both formal and informal), contributed to $144 billion of economic value (8.5 per cent of the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa), and contributed $15.6 billion to the public sector through taxation.

Digitization has also resolved information asymmetry problems in the financial system and labour market, thus increasing efficiency, certainty, and security in an environment where information flow is critical for economic growth and job creation.

By 2030, Africa’s potential workforce will be among the world’s largest. So, paired with the needed infrastructure and skills for innovation and technology use, the 4IR represents a massive opportunity for growth. Indeed, the 4IR is dramatically changing global systems of labour and production, requiring that job seekers cultivate the skills and capabilities necessary for adapting rapidly to the needs of African firms and automation more broadly.

Digitization has impacted economic growth through inclusive finance, enabling the unbanked to enter formality through retail electronic payment platforms and virtual savings and credit supply technological platforms. More broadly, digitization is helping entrepreneurs and businesses to rethink business models that are more impactful, sustainable, and connected to other sectors of the economy.

In West Africa and Kenya, blockchain has enabled efficient verification of property records and transactions and expanded access to credit in some previously informal sectors of the economy. Since blockchains are immutable, fraud—and thus the cost of risk—is reduced. There are also immense opportunities for job creation in Africa.

Agriculture, accounting for 60% of employment in sub-Saharan Africa, holds untapped potential. With 4IR technologies, this sector can flourish, as the food system is predicted to add more jobs than other sectors between 2010 and 2025. Balancing economic, social, and human considerations is vital as we traverse this revolution.

If Africa fails to seize 4IR opportunities, it risks widening the global “digital divide” and diminishing its global competitiveness. Conversely, embracing digital technologies during this Industry 4.0 era can uplift the impoverished, offering them information, job prospects, and services to elevate their living standards.

Technologies like AI, IoT, and blockchain can amplify data collection and analysis, paving the way for targeted poverty alleviation strategies.

A prolific writer specializing in the realms of business, banking, and finance. She holds a degree in Finance and Insurance, which bolsters her in-depth exploration and astute understanding of complex industry practices. Caroline leverages her academic acumen to scrutinize and challenge conventional business norms, transforming her findings into engaging, insightful articles. She is known for her forward-thinking analysis and her knack for identifying potential opportunities and addressing sectoral challenges. Through her professional writing, Caroline not only unravels the intricacies of financial and business landscapes, but also aims to foster an informed dialogue that can drive industry innovation and reform.

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