n New Agenda: South African Journal of Social and Economic Policy - Debating the Fourth Industrial Revolution : first things first

Volume 2019 Number 75
  • ISSN : 1607-2820


A Los Angeles-based author, Brian Merchant, recently published a book on the activities of Foxconn, a Chinese company that assembles Apple’s iPhones in Shenzhen. Workers in the plant in which highly sophisticated iPhones are produced were so unhappy about their working and living conditions that in 2010 incidents of suicide began to be widespread. Last year, in Durban, an engineering plant shop steward was taken to a warehouse and shown brand new robots. The manager pointed at the robots and said mockingly, “Here are NUMSA [National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa] members who do not get tired. These members don’t go on strike”. Human stories like these tend to be ignored when scholars present grand narratives about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) at conferences, in seminars and workshops. In April 2019, the South African government launched the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – an institution for conducting and coordinating research on “artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, distribution ledge technology and precision medicine”.

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