EDITOR'S NOTE

Separating man from machine

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Welcome to another edition of South Africa’s favourite business monthly as we fire-up the engines on another pulsating year, which is make or break for a flagging economy.

It has been pleasing to see some direction emerging after the ANC presidential race, as Cyril Ramaphosa takes the reigns as the next contender for the hot seat. The veteran political head and successful businessman has had his up and downs over the years, with some sticky moments during his time in the mining sector.

If elected there will be a honeymoon period for the economy, which has already shown signs of promise, but only time will tell for long-term predictions. One thing is certain, many South Africans are ready for change, and Ramaphosa brings hope.

He is undoubtedly a master negotiator with keen business savvy, which if used wisely can benefit South Africa where people with real business acumen in key government positions have been scarce at times.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to steal the headlines too as, for example, farm robots are developed and rolled out that can pick and sort food. It is only a matter of time before we face a sink or swim scenario locally, with our labour-heavy workforce, especially in agriculture.

Will we see a similar scenario, as in the motor industry where a certain amount of product needs to be made in South Africa to avoid import duty? In a similar way, will a time come when by law a certain percentage of jobs need to be ‘performed by humans’ and not AI. If not, how can we protect jobs?

If companies are allowed to go full AI, in less than 20 - 30 years some semi and skilled jobs will be replaced altogether. What then, what are the job prospects for the next generation? It will redefine society as we know it and the value of your skill set.

It is also fascinating to read about how AI actually works. Instead of designing a robot that knows how to do X, Y and Z, a more human progression of learning is applied.

A robot starts off with a child-like mind and is then programmed to start learning new skills, for example, a new language in four hours, becoming a chessmaster or learning accountancy. It does not come out of the box complete, but rather ‘updates’ itself with various skills.

It has been found that the biggest key to learning is regret. For example, people who don’t regret poor decisions never learn, because they are unaware.

Therefore AI is programmed to acknowledge when it makes a mistake, and learn from it. The ultimate question is, can AI show compassion, real compassion, because for me that is what separates man from machine.

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