President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his state of the nation address at a joint sitting of parliament in Cape Town, February 7 2019. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his state of the nation address at a joint sitting of parliament in Cape Town, February 7 2019. Picture: GCIS

During his state of the nation address (Sona) on Thursday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he had appointed a presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution.

“To ensure that we effectively and with greater urgency harness technological change in pursuit of inclusive growth and social development, I have appointed a presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution,” Ramaphosa said.

Comprising eminent persons drawn from different sectors of society, the commission will serve as a national overarching advisory mechanism on digital transformation.

It will identify and recommend policies, strategies and plans that will position SA as a globally competitive player within the digital revolution space.

Several studies have shown that the fourth industrial revolution — which involves a fusion of artificial intelligence and automated machines — has the potential to disrupt every industry.

A McKinsey report published in 2017 projected that by 2030, at least one-third of the activities of 60% of occupations could be automated.

Another recent study by global consultancy firm Accenture found that close to six-million jobs in SA would be at risk over the next seven years due to automation. The study highlighted that both blue- and white-collar jobs are at risk. These occupations include those of clerks, cashiers, bank tellers, construction workers, mining and maintenance staff.

State of the nation 2019

Ramaphosa stated that revolutionary advances in technology were reshaping the way people work and live.

“They are transforming the way people relate to each other, the way societies function and the way they are governed. The devastating effects of global warming on our climate are already being felt, with extreme weather conditions damaging livelihoods, communities and economies.

“As a young nation, only 25 years into our democracy, we are faced with a stark choice. It is a choice between being overtaken by technological change or harnessing it to serve our developmental aspirations. It is a choice between entrenching inequality or creating shared prosperity through innovation,” Ramaphosa said.

“Unless we adapt, unless we understand the nature of the profound change that is reshaping our world and unless we readily embrace the opportunities it presents, the promise of our nation’s birth will forever remain unfulfilled. Today, we choose to be a nation that is reaching into the future. In doing so, we are building on a platform of extraordinary scientific achievement.”

phakathib@businesslive.co.za