Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution South Africa

Partnering with C4IR-SA

“The fourth industrial revolution represents a fundamental change in the way we live, work and relate to one another. It is a new chapter in human development, enabled by extraordinary technology advances commensurate with those of the first, second and third industrial revolutions. These advances are merging the physical, digital and biological worlds in ways that create both huge promise and potential peril … The real opportunity is to look beyond technology and find ways to give the greatest number of people the ability to positively impact their families, organisations and communities.”

World Economic Forum, 2018

The technological advances in the fourth industrial revolution, inevitably, have both merits and risks. The extent to which the benefits are maximised and the risks mitigated depends on the quality of governance protocols – policies, regulations, norms, standards and incentives that shape the development and deployment of technologies. Governance must be stable, interoperable, predictable and transparent enough to build confidence among investors, companies, scientists and the general public, but also agile enough to remain relevant in the face of rapid advances in technology.

South Africa’s adoption of transformative technologies should be in the form of a unique model, strategy and objectives, informed by South Africa’s socioeconomic imperatives, and shaped by South Africa’s unique contexts and circumstances as a developing economy. Due to the globalised nature of the economy and digital transformation, South Africa and Africa as a whole will need to actively collaborate both internally and externally in order to remain competitive.

The South African Presidency, through the Department of Science and innovation has established a Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR-SA) to lead the process of developing quality governance protocols that aim to maximise the benefits of the South African economy. The C4IR-SA is managed and operated by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. It is affiliated to the World Economic Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution Network (C4IR Global Network) to tap into the expertise available within the C4IR Global Network.

The C4IR Network’s vision is to help shape the development and application of emerging technologies for the benefit of humanity. The C4IR Network’s mission is to co-design, test and refine governance protocols and policy frameworks to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of advanced science and technology.

Co-designing and Piloting Policy Frameworks and Governance Protocols across Multiple Focus Areas

To accelerate impact and drive change, the C4IR-SA brings together government departments and entities, business organisations, dynamic start-ups, civil society and academia, and leverages expertise in the C4IR Global Networks from around the world to work together, initially across four interrelated technology areas. The four technology areas emerged out of two workshops held in 2019 and the cases identified were used to define the initial set of projects.

Data Policy

The fourth industrial revolution has already had a profound impact on global trade, economic growth and social progress. On one hand, the ability of data to move across borders underpins new business models, boosting the global gross domestic product by 10% in the last decade alone. However, digital trade barriers, including outdated regulations, fragmented governance and strict data localisation policies could potentially hamper these gains.

As data is increasingly generated and collected globally, businesses require clearer and more practical data governance protocols, such as embracing open data – particularly the releasing of public data for use by entrepreneurs; developing infrastructure and skills to enable South Africa to be a hub of data economy in Africa and globally; creating a conducive environment for investment, i.e. ease of doing business in data economy and policy certainty; creating a capable state that deals decisively with addressing ills such as crime and corruption, as well as inequality and transformation; and creating a social compact to develop and co-create policy. At the same time, policymakers need better tools to develop future-oriented and agile frameworks for data regulation that will allow for innovation, but protect individual privacy; promote inclusion; securing data against cybercriminals; and enable data sharing in public service.

The Data Policy portfolio focuses on maximising the humanitarian and beneficial uses of data, while seeking to develop practical solutions using a multi-stakeholder approach to policymaking. Data Policy is a cross-cutting portfolio; therefore the governance protocols that can be put in place in this platform may have an impact on the other three platforms, namely the Internet of Things (IoT), which generates data; artificial intelligence (AI), which learns from data; and blockchain, which is a mechanism used to reliably capture a data transaction history in a distributed manner.

Projects being explored at the C4IR-SA include the protection of personal data; models and ownership and the monetisation thereof; and data access models, including open data model for societal value.

Projects in the C4IR global network include a Data Policy toolkit; general data protection regulation for the fourth industrial revolution; cross border data flows and re-imagining consent and trustworthy data for the common good.

IoT, robotics and smart cities

There are more connected devices in the world today than humans. It is projected that by 2025 they will exceed 40 billion. As IoT technologies continue to spread across all aspects of day-to-day life, and even become embedded in the human body, questions regarding data ownership, cybersecurity, accuracy and privacy protection take on newfound urgency and importance. Similarly, in an interconnected world where electric grids, public infrastructure, vehicles, homes and workplaces can be accessed and controlled remotely, the vulnerability to cyberattacks and the potential for these security breaches to cause serious harm are unprecedented.

Infrastructure deployments to support IoT are driven mainly by large industry players, leading to economic benefits from data generated by IoT, but enjoyed mostly by large industry players. Promotion of the use of IoT by small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in several industries is a high priority in South Africa and in many emerging economies.

Projects being explored at the C4IR-SA include the promotion of IoT use by SMMEs in the modernisation of the manufacturing sector, service economy and social services; asset management and utilisation monitoring to enable preventative maintenance; and supply chain transparency.

Projects in the C4IR Global Network include creating market incentives for secure industrial IoT; accelerating the impact of IoT technologies; forging a new social contract for smart cities; unlocking the shared value of IoT data; building trust in consumer IoT; enabling an inclusive roll-out of 5G and next-generation connectivity.

Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT)

Blockchain, an early stage technology that enables the decentralised and secure storage and transfer of information, has the potential to be a powerful tool for tracking transactions that can minimise friction, reduce corruption, increase trust and empower users. Cryptocurrencies built on DLTs have emerged as potential gateways to new wealth creation and disrupters across financial markets. Other revolutionary use cases are being explored in almost every sector, ranging from energy to shipping to media. By taking a systemic and inclusive approach to this technology, it is possible to ensure that everyone – from the most marginalised members of society to the most powerful – benefits from its transformative potential.

Projects being explored at the C4IR-SA include digital identity and certification; asset registration and management; and unlocking transparency through end-to-end view of the supply chain.

Projects in the C4IR Global Network include interoperability, integrity, and inclusion: blockchain for supply chains; central banks in the age of blockchain; unlocking transparency; re-imagining data ownership and economic models in the token economy; and digital identity and certification.

AI and machine learning (ML)

AI is the software engine that drives the fourth industrial revolution. Its impact can already be seen in homes, businesses and political processes. It holds the promise of solving some of the most pressing issues facing society, but also presents challenges such as inscrutable “black box” algorithms, unethical use of data and potential job displacement. ML is the subfield of AI that focuses on giving computer systems the ability to learn from data. As rapid advances in ML increase, the scope and scale of AI’s deployment across all aspects of daily life, and as the technology itself can learn and change on its own. Multi-stakeholder collaboration is required to optimise accountability, transparency, privacy and impartiality to create trust. The AI/ML portfolio aims to support the development of policy frameworks and governance protocols to accelerate the societal benefits and mitigate the risks of AI and, in particular, ML.

Projects being explored at the C4IR-SA include empowering AI leadership; teaching responsible AI; use of AI in the audit and monitoring of the implementation and practice of healthcare; and gathering of insights for government systems at national, provincial and local levels.

Projects in the C4IR Global Network include empowering AI leadership; unlocking public sector AI; generation AI: standards for protecting children; re-imagining the regulator; data marketplace for AI; teaching responsible AI; and the ethics switch.