How much have we trained our minds and thoughts on the problems of the future? How well will Africa be able to respond to the tectonic shifts in economics, and indeed sociopolitical permutations that this revolution will bring about or is bring about already? Do we just sit on our hands and pretend nothing is going on as usual?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Wetin ‘consign’ us with that? One you may ask. Well a lot. The same way it eventually ‘consigned’ us decades and centuries after the First, Second and Third Industrial Revolutions happened. Yes, it ‘consigned’ us, first into ships, where we were transported thousands of kilometres to strange lands and sold for less than the cost of cattle. It ‘consigned’ us, when we used our own monies, sold off our family property, to obtain visas into Europe and America. It ‘consigned’ us to trek across the Sahara into Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, via Mauritania, Mali and Niger. It ‘consigned’ us to be permanent dregs of the earth, slaves to humanity, the security men and packers of dirt and waste, all over the world. It has ‘consigned’ us ever since.
Only posterity knows what the Fourth Industrial Revolution will ‘consign’ us to if we don’t take heed and step up to the plate.
For one, I can say that it is the age were the export of natural resources will be archaic, if not outlawed. So for as long as Nigeria plans for the export of raw materials, we should take caution that a point is coming where we would not be able to earn a single cent from those products. Sounds farfetched but it’s real. People all over the world have been thinking about this reality. And like before, those who simply sit on their hands and await the culmination of those thoughts and actions get the short end of the stick. Deservedly. This world is pivoted on thought, and we have entered the age of thought. The age of intelligence. Everything around us today is a product of someone’s thinking process. If we cannot register our presence in this milieu of intelligence, the least we can do is to show the world that we understand and are gradually following through. The world will soon become even more impatient with laggards and those who are not ready to contribute towards its progress. If by then rogue elements cause wars and seek the extermination of those societies which are not ready to contribute, the worst that will happen is that history will record such an event as another world war.
First some history: The first industrial revolution was powered by steam engines. It was the time when Europeans could sail easily across thousands of miles at sea and capture people like us. It was the time when mass production for the needs of people took root. We were nowhere to be found, except as victims. The second revolution took place with electricity. Productivity soared even more. People became more efficient and could even work at night. The world integrated some more. It was a marked departure from the past. The third revolution was the age of the computer. Information technology brought a boost that was hitherto unthinkable. It is the reason you can read this from wherever you are. The world became much more interconnected. At best, we bought into this revolution at great cost. Our contribution as a society, tended towards zero. We sure have a few leading lights, but if their efforts are not coordinated by society and presented as our collective, they often don’t count. Contribution to the revolution goes far beyond the ability of some of us to make millions of dollars selling an App to Microsoft, or making enough money to show up on a Forbes richlist. It is about how much has this new thinking become ingrained in our society. We have much work to do.
Is Africa included in this new shift? If Europe and the Americas are thinking of the next level – and getting tired of capitalism and the quest for wealth but thinking broadly about human sustainability – when will countries like Nigeria dig themselves, first out of the hole of inefficiency, corruption and barbarism, to join this new thinking?
So what is this Fourth Industrial Revolution? The World Economic Forum says it will bring together ‘digital, physical, and biological systems’ of the world. They say everything is in the human brain and they the revolution will unlock the ‘black box’ of the that human brain. Mr. Stewart Wallis of the New Economics Foundation based in the United Kingdom says it is about different relation between human beings, the planet, life, work, and the world at large, through the defining of a new economic model, away from the jaded talk of capitalism and communism/socialism, into one where more equity is achieved by focusing the brain on meeting the basic needs of every human on planet Earth. He believes the Fourth Industrial Revolution will focus more on health and education, and the maximisation of human wellbeing, in a way that creates a new story of how we want to live going forward. Is Africa included in this new shift? If Europe and the Americas are thinking of the next level – and getting tired of capitalism and the quest for wealth but thinking broadly about human sustainability – when will countries like Nigeria dig themselves, first out of the hole of inefficiency, corruption and barbarism, to join this new thinking? Are our leaders ready to jettison the idea that they are better off than the led, and have been given the permission by no less than ‘God’ to oppress the unfortunate hoi polloi? Does the thinking of our leaders lend itself to a society of equity and general human dignity? Personally, I don’t think so. We are not even tending towards reinventing ourselves.
Ellen MacArthur of the Ellen MacArthur UK Foundation says innovations like 3-D printing and the leveraging on Information Technology will lead to the decoupling of economic growth from resource constraints. This is where the alarm bells start ringing. Already, it doesn’t matter what country has what resource. But it will rapidly get worse. Countries in Africa boasting of their resource endowments have their heads stuck in the sand (pardon the pun). I have always suspected that the whole rhetoric about Africa being the most resourced continent is at best a decoy – something that prevents Africans from deep thinking – and at worst, an indication that ours is the most exploited continent, even as others keep their best resources close to their chests. Anyhow, natural resources are decreasing in importance. Ellen here says that this new industrial revolution rests on innovation and creativity, leading to things like the recovery of materials which are fed back into the economy as productive resources. This is the age where recycling will be big and little will waste even as each resource is put to different surprising uses. This is the age to THINK!
Carlo Ratti of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology says the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the age where we do away with big supply chains in order to produce things, where materials for production – including food for the body – are sourced more and more locally. He emphasised 3D printing and robotics. This new revolution is about sustainability in everything we do. Those thinking of Nigeria’s economic emancipation through the building of huge, new factories better think again. At best, the shelf life of those huge companies will not be very long. 3-D printing is a scenario where people produce little things they need themselves in their sitting room, and this technology can ramp up quite rapidly.
Chris Moedas of the European Commission in Belgium emphasised this new reality with the example of an 18-year old boy who came up with an idea of how to get better productivity from seeds. Its an idea that has worked. When asked how he achieved this without having attended university, the boy answered that he has been watching Youtube since he was 12 and had studied many processes in that manner! Millions of educational videos now exist on Youtube and beyond. Knowledge is now free! This one goes to those Nigerians who believe that formal ‘education’ is the way forward and their idea of education is for government – or even the private sector – to build more universities. These are the same ones who believe that online education is no education. They live firmly in the distant past. Education is good, but it must change. It must be relevant. Radical new policies are needed and it is doable. But first, policy-makers must ditch their archaic ways of thinking. The world has moved on. In the USA, they are now teaching 3rd graders (primary 3), robotics as a standard subject. The third industrial revolution has been a world of versatility, where humans are capable beyond narrow spectrums. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the age of continuous learning, where people take advantage of endless free knowledge available within the billions of pages stored on the internet and elsewhere.
We should actively take our minds off extractive resources and reconsider even those little odd things around us that we could use to devastating effect. That is how the world now works, and that is one area where we aren’t doing well at all.
Satya Badela of Microsoft defines the new revolution we live in as “this ability of digital technology to change outcomes, to truly empower people all over the world, (to) create a more equitable growth because I think the world needs that”. Talking of equity and widespread prosperity, I believe that AFRICA SHOULD BE AT THE FOREFRONT OF THIS NEW REALITY. Why should it be Europeans who are talking of more equity in a world skewed against Africa? To make matters worse, we still see many African policy-makers whose whole existence is locked into the idea of ‘trickle-down’ economics and the maximisation of profits. They are a tad worse than those who believe that the state should do everything and just share largesse to the masses. The thinking world is ditching these one-track approaches to development. The world is thinking commonsense these days. So some of what I’ve been preaching on these pages is not so unique after all. It’s just what sincere minds are worried about.
Peter Maurer of the International Commission for the Red Cross draws our attention to the FACT that technology makes inequality and injustice more obvious, more viral and LESS ACCEPTABLE. We can see that with the way Police brutality in the USA went viral, and of course other injustices around the world. Since bad news travel faster, the bad guys are in for a bad time. Yes, some of us with myopic, selfish views have this penchant to rationalise on behalf of the bad guys – especially if they are government and we stand to gain. But those guys are in front of a moving train. Like never before, communication technology is shaping our reality – most times for good – and it is enabling the acquisition of tremendous amounts of good knowledge. The other day, I shared on Facebook the clip of a man who stripped naked in front of his debtor’s house. Someone remarked that such things have always happened. Yes. But this time, IT allowed it to go viral. Now, those who didn’t know it was possible saw it for the first time. The debtor Nicholas Ukachukwu, also paid up, from what I learnt. That is the power of the new media.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) believes that people should be encouraged to think freely; to think creative and divergent thoughts. It believes that up until now the world has been discussing the freedom of speech, and that any society in which people fear to think, will not make progress. I agree. Mariette DiChristina of the Scientific American believes that “even though we have everyday problems, we have to find a way to lay the foundations for the innovations of tomorrow”. Again, this speaks to Africa – especially Nigeria. For how long will we use the excuse of battling our current problems (which we never surmount anyway) as the reason behind our refusal to think about the future before we end up under the train of change? Is it not said that any society, organisation or human being who does not change FASTER than the change in its environment will become a dinosaur? How much have we trained our minds and thoughts on the problems of the future? How well will Africa be able to respond to the tectonic shifts in economics, and indeed sociopolitical permutations that this revolution will bring about or is bring about already? Do we just sit on our hands and pretend nothing is going on as usual?
This brings to focus the argument by our Minister of Finance at the World Bank/IMF meetings about the ‘refusal’ of the Western World to allow Nigeria tap into the use of coal for electricity. Actually, I heard the same argument from Akinwumi Adesina in his first outing as the President of the African Development Bank in Lusaka, Zambia in May 2016. In fact, it almost became a shouting match between himself and one white lady right there under the spotlight as everyone watched. I think it’s half-and-half. Whereas I would not want to abandon my country’s quest for progress by whatever means, I believe that we should go ahead and do what we want to do already. But the quest for coal energy is sounding rather archaic, given this new industrial revolution. The westerners that are complaining probably have a point because they are already living in a sustainable world and would want others to key into sustainability. We here should think farther ahead. We should not be solving one problem while creating another. We should actively take our minds off extractive resources and reconsider even those little odd things around us that we could use to devastating effect. That is how the world now works, and that is one area where we aren’t doing well at all. For example, we could have started exploring the abilities of solar energy rather than leave everything to Japan or other places where the sun doesn’t even shine. Since time has caught up on us, we must be ready to pay for our past negligence. Playing the victim is at best only half of the work. All those who call themselves leaders in Nigeria have really let themselves down.
Anyhow, welcome to the AGE OF INTELLIGENCE – LET US USE OUR BRAINS!
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‘Tope Fasua is President, Institute for Service Excellence and Good Governance; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.