Humans need to ‘reboot’ in the fourth industrial revolution
Thousands of execs are in Cape Town to talk science, technology, climate change and innovation
“This halloween, I am going to darken the doorways dressed as an algorithm.”
So says Ravi Naidoo, the SA entrepreneur who is the chairperson and curator of a large-scale conference of young executives about to take place in Cape Town.
Thousands of young CEOs are arriving this week for the annual global gathering that takes place on a different continent every year. It’s called YPO Edge (Young Professionals Organisation) and this is the first time Cape Town is hosting it.
The basic idea is that influential business leaders, under the age of 45 and who share a common goal of not just making a profit but having an impact, get together to cross-pollinate ideas. They will be talking about everything from science and technology to climate change and innovation, and how those intersect with their businesses.
Could this be a feather in the cap of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment drive to raise $100bn over the next few years? It is possible, looking at the scale of the event.
There will, according to a statement from the YPO, “be around 2,000 leaders coming in from 130 different countries”, and the theme this year is about being human in the fourth industrial revolution – and how we need to emulate the technology we have created by constantly upgrading ourselves, and rebooting.
Some big names among speakers and attendees recognisable to South Africans will be there, including Trevor Noah, Romeo Kumalo, Paul Cluver, Connie Mashaba and Gareth Ackerman.
Naidoo – who came up with the theme Life of Re – has just finished at Design Indaba, which ended on Friday.
“There is nothing more scary than an algorithm,” he told Times Select, “because what is concerning all of us right now is what’s going to happen in this world of machine learning. With robotics, what is the future for work, society, the economy? Like the software we fear may replace us, it’s time we see ourselves as an ever-evolving, ever-adapting product of the fourth industrial revolution.”
Many saw artificial intelligence as the beginning of a rather “dystopian future” with “vast swathes of our industries just disappearing”.
But, Naidoo says, the first thing “we should do as leaders is not panic”.
We all need to “unlearn and relearn”, and ask ourselves: “What is your ‘re’ project right now – because if you are not rebooting to upgrade and make yourself better, you are either running on the spot or running backwards.”
He says one of the main philosophies that should drive those who are meeting is the idea of collaboration – not just with one another, but with the people for whom products, buildings, cities and everything else are designed.
“You can’t be beached on some hipster island of innovation in Woodstock and not know the reality of the people you are designing for,” he says, citing the example of the business innovator who came up with the idea of a smart water carrier for people in the slums of Nairobi in Kenya.
“It looked beautiful, and it could carry five water flasks, and it had a great filtration mechanism. But it cost $30 a pop – this for people who are living on $1 a day! He got the context all wrong.”
YPO Edge is being hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Centre and runs over March 6 and 7.