Prof. Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman and Founder of the World Economic Forum

Dr Thulani Dlamini, CEO of the CSIR

Young and emerging researchers – the future lifeblood of science and technology in South Africa

Ladies and gentlemen

 

I am delighted to be able to join in the proceedings this morning, as investment in and support for the next generation of South African researchers is one of the strategic priorities of our government and of my Department specifically.  Indeed, events such as the CSIR Emerging Researchers Symposium play a crucial role in developing the human capital South Africa needs to achieve our mission of defeating poverty, unemployment and inequality.  I therefore value the opportunity to personally bring my message of encouragement and support to the emerging researchers gathered here.

 

More specifically, I am honoured to welcome to the campus of the CSIR, one of the entities that reports to my Department, Prof. Klaus Schwab, a trusted friend and partner of our government.  Later today, I will have the privilege of participating with Prof. Schwab in a special round table convened by President Ramaphosa to discuss how, in cooperation with the World Economic Forum (WEF), our government can promote international investment partnerships to accelerate growth and development in our country.  

 

Prof. Schwab, our government is truly grateful for the hand of friendship extended by the WEF.  I am also honoured to be invited and look forward to participating in the Forum's Annual Meeting of New Champions to be held in China in September.  Later this afternoon, at the Presidential Round Table, we will be discussing among other topics how South Africa should prepare to respond to the opportunities and challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  We could not have wished for better advisers than the Forum, and Prof. Schwab personally, on this strategic imperative.

 

As stated by the Forum in one of its seminal reports on the Fourth Industrial Revolution:  "We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.  In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before."  In order to align South Africa's efforts in response to these dynamics, President Ramaphosa earlier this year announced the establishment of a Digital Revolution Commission, in which institutions like the CSIR, with regard to research and innovation, will have a crucial role to play.

 

One of the key disruptive technologies of the Fourth Industrial Technology will be big data.  It is an area South Africa is already significantly investing in, notably through our hosting of the project to build the world's largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array or SKA, which will collect and analyse volumes of data on a much bigger scale than any other scientific project.  The CSIR is at the forefront of our efforts to invest in and develop capacities in associated technology domains such as sensor technology, high-performance computing, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (including robotics).

 

Our holistic perspective on how to harness disruptive technologies across a broad spectrum for improving the quality of life of South Africans includes – again with the participation of the CSIR – programmes in areas such as genome analysis and genetic manipulation/engineering, nanotechnology, new materials, 3D printing, Earth observation and drone development.  We need to invest in such programmes in order to ensure that South Africa is not marginalised in the disruption of existing and creation of new global industries.

 

The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be fundamental across almost all economic sectors and societal benefit areas.  From a South African perspective, our efforts should be focused on priorities such as enhancing the competitiveness of our economy through smart manufacturing, the enhancement of supply chains and logistics, and infrastructure development; as well as the improvement of service delivery, for example through investment in smart city development and the delivery of health services.  Smart agriculture, drug development and testing, as well as precision medicine and energy generation and storage should be other priorities for technology investment.

 

Of course, any interrogation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution should include the priority focus of the impact on employment, specifically with regard to the possible loss of semi-skilled jobs and increasing inequality.  This is indeed a crucial challenge to which we should respond, given our advantage of few legacy systems, by leap‑frogging directly to the latest technology, but within a strategic framework which addresses our triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.  In this regard, I should recall that President Ramaphosa is currently serving as co-chair of the International Labour Organization's Global Commission on the Future of Work, which is reflecting on this challenge.

 

Our government's efforts in response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution will include a concerted focus on digital infrastructure development, including development of broadband technologies and cloud computing, and of course, crucially, investment in education.  Our investments will be guided by criteria such as how to achieve optimal socio-economic impact, how to strengthen our economy's competitive advantages, and how to maximise learning and the development of the skills and expertise of all South Africans.  

 

In all of this, international partnerships and the sharing of experience and expertise – including with the members of the World Economic Forum – will be crucial.  I therefore very much look forward to listening to Prof. Schwab, and am confident he will be inspired and impressed by his visit to the CSIR.

 

I thank you.