Digital Innovation, While Necessary, Comes With Risks – Deloitte

While global competition has necessitated technological and digital innovation across all industries, there is legitimate concern globally that innovation could threaten job creation, particularly in traditionally labour-intensive sectors such as mining, manufacturing and agriculture, according to Deloitte Africa digital and innovation chief officer Valter Adao.

Responding to a question from Engineering News Online during a panel discussion organised by Singularity South Africa on Thursday, Adao noted that innovation would change the jobs landscape “quite significantly” and had to a great degree a logic of its own that was not tameable.

“We need to recognise, upfront, that if industry does not digitalise then all large industrial factories and manufacturing plants will not be globally competitive,” he pointed out.

Adao emphasised that if industry did not move with the times, society would, figuratively speaking, “fall back into the Stone Age in terms of competitiveness”.

The challenge, therefore, lay in education, according to Adao. He commented that both unskilled workers and those joining the workforce without a certain level of skills sets required for the modern era would be affected by disruptive technological developments.

He noted, by way of example, that industry and/or governments could decide to protect the jobs of lemon pickers by not allowing the introduction of modern technologies to replace the need for manual lemon picking. However, Adao argued that these people would never advance beyond minimum wage for the rest of their lives.

“Children of lemon pickers will not be able to attain higher educational opportunities owing to affordability constraints and will, in all likelihood, be forced to become lemon pickers like their parents before them. This scenario in no ways reflects one of economic prosperity, but rather a low-paying labour curse.”

He pointed out that, through digitalisation and exponential technologies, low-skilled workers could be taught how to operate machinery, which would expand the momentum of countries’ economies by enabling greater industrialisation opportunities up and down the value chain.

Adao cautioned, however, that the onus was on the private sector and government to ensure that a safety net was created for vulnerable, low- and semiskilled workers to ensure they are not forgotten and left worse off in the face of necessary technological and digital innovations.

“This is an issue that needs a lot of thought and is something that will be discussed in more detail at the SingularityU South Africa Summit by industry players,” he stated.

Adao further noted that, over the past 100 years, the world had seen a “phenomenal growth” in the adoption of new technologies, which had resulted in a net creation of jobs.

He remarked that the adoption of new technologies was in some ways a “frightening prospect” for many, but he cautioned that it should not be used as an excuse for new technologies to not be implemented.

Rather, for to be better understood and embraced, and for progress to ultimately be embraced to ensure that modern society achieves maximum advantage out of it, it needs to be addressed constructively.

The other panellists at Singularity University’s discussion included Standard Bank interactive marketing executive head Bellinda Carreira; MTN digital services, data analytics and business development VP Stephen Van Coller; SAP Africa chief technology adviser Simon Carpenter, and SingularityU South Africa Summit organiser Mic Mann. The panel was chaired by media personality Redi Tlhabi.

The panel discussed topics relating to the future of exponential technologies in Africa ahead of global community leveraging exponential technologies Singularity University’s first international SingularityU South Africa Summit, in Midrand, from August 23 to 24.

The two-day summit will highlight the impact of artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain (digital ledger) and other exponential technologies on healthcare, security, design and finance. The summit will also offer an exchange of ideas and notes on best practice in these fields.

Exponential thought leaders, Singularity University faculty members and global organisations will engage in extensive debate and collaborative discussions that aim to provide participants with insight into emerging exponential technologies and how they can be used to create positive change and economic growth in Africa.

In addition to experts’ presentations, participants at the summit will explore issues such as trending technological changes worldwide and their impact on industry growth and region-specific challenges. The summit will also showcase African entrepreneurs, innovations and advanced technologies in the interactive exhibitor halls.