The government must urgently start collecting data from South Africans in bulk because soon it will become “as valuable as oil”, says prof. Tshilidzi Marwala, vice-chair of the commission that passed a report on the country’s readiness for the fourth industrial revolution to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
For technology to help make progress in sectors such as medical care and education, the government needs more data from its people, Marwala reckons.
Marwala, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, and a team of 29 other experts in the field of artificial intelligence, technology, education, and communication, presented their long-awaited report to the President on Friday.
Ramaphosa convened the commission last year to determine South Africa’s readiness for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
The 4IR refers to a revolution brought about by development in the field of technology.
It is characterized by the blending of technology in such a way that it crosses the boundaries between physical, digital and biological spheres.
According to Marwala, eight key points have been submitted to Ramaphosa on which the government must now focus on the 4IR in South Africa. This includes the development of “human capital”, namely South Africans who are trained and competent enough to use the new technology to improve everyone’s abilities.
The government must therefore invest in the education of young people, especially in areas such as programming and mathematical sciences.
The commission also proposes that a special institute be established that focuses exclusively on the development and possible uses of artificial intelligence in a South African perspective.
This includes collecting and processing data to ultimately help improve service delivery.
“We must first find a way to strip this data of identifiable information,” says Marwala. It is essential that South Africans’ right to privacy is protected, he says.
Therefore, the issue of regulation is one of the eight key points mentioned to Ramaphosa in the report.
“How do we regulate the data collected, but also the data that international companies such as Facebook and Google collect about South Africans?”
The report also looks at how it will be practically possible to get individuals and businesses to accelerate the transition to a more technologically driven approach.
“This includes the possibility of tax cuts or making research more readily available to everyone.”
Concerning the concern about the detrimental effects of 5G on human health, Marwala says a mountain is being made from a molehill.
“5G is a viable technology and I have not seen any research that says it poses a significant health risk.”
He reckons 5G “is the next step”.