The future of mankind has always been defined by the development of technological breakthroughs. This has been true since Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb and Henry Ford began the mass production of the first Model T.

Since then, we have seen technological breakthroughs in the fields of medicine, communication and diplomacy that could only have been possible through the advancement of technology. This is being carried on today through the growth of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

A force of good?

As with the industrial revolutions that have preceded it, there will be some casualties along the way in the development of the 4IR. However, we need to establish whether this means that the 4IR needs to come to a stop, or if its effects need to be managed.

A recent article on abcnews.go.com shows that Chinese President Xi Xinping is calling for more technological development in a world that is increasingly defined by tech.

In a speech at the opening of a Communist Party congress, Xi called for making a country of innovators and creating competitors in aerospace, cyberspace, clean energy and other areas. Xi promised to promote cooperation among universities, government research institutes, state companies and small enterprises.

Settling tensions

The article pointed out that tensions with Washington and Europe over technology policy is rising as Chinese companies emerge as global competitors in cellphones, solar power and other fields amid complaints that Beijing hampers access to its own markets.

Intelligence analysts say the government encourages intellectual property theft.

The article adds that US President Donald Trump ordered an investigation in August into whether China improperly requires foreign companies to hand over technology as a condition of market access.

Deep concerns

“We will strengthen basic research in applied sciences, launch major national science and technology projects and prioritize innovation in key technologies,” said Xi in a nationally televised speech.

The ABC article mentions that Chinese companies are spending billions of dollars a year on developing their own technology in computers, telecoms and other fields. But the country also is regarded as a global centre for industrial spying and intelligence experts say the scale is growing as Beijing tries to create competitors in fields from robotics to energy to pharmaceuticals.

Foreign business groups also have expressed concern about development plans they say would limit access to emerging industries by dictating in advance leading competitors will be Chinese-owned.

Global companies are setting up research and development facilities in China but business groups say they are reluctant to transfer their most advanced technologies or conduct high-level research in this country for fear it will be stolen.

A force for social good

The concerns over Chinas technological policy may be valid, and the rumours regarding their adherent practices may be correct; however, it must be remembered that technological development is a force for social good first and a powerful weapon second. Technology has given a voice to people who have not had one (traditionally marginalized groups), as well as created jobs for many people who previously didn’t have one.

Apple Co-Founder, Steve Wozniak, has opened a technological school of learning to enable technological development.

An article on learningenglish.voanews.com points out that Wozniak recently announced the creation of what is being called an online university, known as Woz U.
The article adds that, in the beginning, Woz U will only offer classes through electronic devices connected to computers. Later, the school plans to open up classrooms in more than 30 cities so students can attend in person.

Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer, with Steve Jobs, in 1976. They developed and hand-built the company’s first computer, the Apple I, mainly working in Jobs’ home, near San Jose, California.

The following year, Wozniak designed the Apple II, which marked a revolution in computer design and development. The Apple II became the world’s first successfully mass-produced personal computer.

An ardent supporter

The article adds that Wozniak has always been a supporter of local education in areas where he has lived. He even taught computer classes for young people and has donated technology equipment to schools.

Now Wozniak is teaming up with a for-profit company to provide programs for students interested in learning about technology.

“Our goal is to educate and train people in employable digital skills without putting them into years of debt,” Wozniak said in a statement. He added that his goal is to inspire and prepare the next generation of innovators to join the workforce of the future.

The article adds that Woz U currently offers training in software development and computer support. The school plans to add several other subjects in 2018. Students who finish the programs will receive a certificate of completion upon graduation.

Wozniak says the school will also work with technology companies to help them identify new workers and train the ones they already have.

Further evidence

Digital-centricity is the term that ties these new disrupters together. But are we equipped to develop this?

A recent article on businesslive.co.za suggests that a lot of development still needs to take place.

The article points out that the huge reliance on everything digital has placed huge demands on the job recruitment market with companies fighting over the best digital talent. A lack of education and skills in these key technologies is holding back companies that want to grow.

A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development report indicates that there is a critical mismatch between current skills and the qualifications required for work in the digital era and that the skills demanded jobs across industries will change drastically by 2020.

The report further suggests that these skills mismatches have increased the need for skilling, reskilling and upskilling throughout a person’s career.

Another study, “Shaping the Future of Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] Skills” found that fueled by fast-growth technology disrupters, a rapid and seismic shift is happening in the demand for technology education and skills, but the appropriate technology education and skills are lacking.
Corporate stumbling block

The article concluded that by relying on these research outcomes, it would seem that the major stumbling block for companies wanting to unleash the power of the fourth industrial revolution is a lack of technical skills such as data analytics and programming proficiency.

This confirms that there is an ongoing disconnect between what is being taught by education providers, and the needs of employers as determined by the pace of technology.

Moreover, it is not just the pace of technology but the confluence of technologies that are creating the need for a new set of multidisciplinary technical skills.