Balancing the future with the present

Signal Risk Director, Ronak Gopaldas, gives more food for thought on the transformative powers of technology.

Africa’s demographic advantages are well documented. Yet, of late, rapid changes and technological advances have divided opinions about these prospects.

For many sceptics, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) poses a massive threat to the continent’s youth. Machine learning, automation and artificial intelligence raise the prospect of vast job losses and exposes the deficiencies of a workforce that does not currently have the skills to compete globally. Seen this way, the continent’s lack of industrialisation is creating anxiety about what the future holds for Africa’s young, growing population. Governments are ill-prepared, and the “Facebook generation” is impatient.

At the same time, a growing school of thought suggests the exact opposite. Optimists believe that new technologies can foster greater inclusion and innovation by levelling playing fields and providing access to income-generating activities to people who are otherwise excluded from the labour market – and, hence, offer opportunities for sustained “catch-up” growth for many African economies. The concept of “leapfrogging” – where rapid innovation enables countries to skip stages of development – is central to this thesis.

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