Is technology threatening jobs for humans?

30 April 2020 - 10:36
By Isaac Mahlangu and Penwell Dlamini
Civil engineer Maemo Machaba and his company build multiple-storey houses./Supplied
Civil engineer Maemo Machaba and his company build multiple-storey houses./Supplied

The changing world of work has pitted workers against technology as SA's labour market begins to embrace opportunities brought by a new chapter in human development.

Tomorrow, as employees around the world celebrate Workers Day, the shop floors where labour unions mobilised thousands of members decades ago to fight in unison for their rights have been transformed. New technologies such as robotics have replaced employees and artificial intelligence has allowed technology to become a new frontier driving replacement of manual labour with machines.

Two aeronautical engineers who have built their own crop-spraying drones, Clive Mathe and Samuel Mathekga, believe their innovation saves farmers unnecessary costs on chemicals and workforce.

"The ability for these crop- spraying drones to apply the needed chemical more accurately, a 100% increase in chemical application efficiency, not only save on chemical costs for farmers but also decrease chemical usage, only applying necessary amounts accurately," Mathe said.

He said he believed the banking sector in SA had embraced the fourth industrial revolution better than other industries.

"Where there might be a need for more efforts are industries that directly deliver value to individuals, where our inherently strict regulations and compliance requirements play a role on delaying that value delivery," Mathe said.

"The drone industry is one such example, where SA is by far the most regulated space in Africa and second in the world, and although these regulations become a deterrent for innovation and a barrier to entry for more innovators, it plays a special buffer on the long-run that allow for stable progression of those innovations that resist and survive the stringent environment."

Among these new innovations is the coolest attraction at the library of the University of Pretoria's main campus in Hatfield, a robot librarian named Libby. For now Libby is no threat to anyone's job as her presence enhances services rendered at the library. The stumpy robot helps with directions and can help you find your way at the campus' main library. Libby could respond to more than 2,500 questions and was in for an upgrade which expanded her information processing capabilities.

Meanwhile, Maemo Machaba is part of an engineering trio who developed a unique technology to build double and triple-storey houses without using pillar support.

Machaba, his mentor Professor Alex Elvin and his former classmate at Wits University Landry Monga, have used technology called the fluted floor system, which allows for more levels to be added onto a house without pillar support.

He told Sowetan that they've been provided a platform and resources to be innovative.

"Our growing list of clients have appreciated the quality that comes as a result of this and... because of their confidence in our ability to deliver better and quicker because of our command and use of resources in a way that speaks to them and their needs."

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said even though change was inevitable it has to be properly managed.

"You can recklessly allow change to happen without any interventions and pay the price or you can gradually introduce it in a managed fashion and make sure you minimise the damage or the fallout. That is our approach to the fourth industrial revolution," Pamla said.

He said SA needed to invest in the skills of workers and prepare them for the transition.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has on numerous occasions spoken about the need for SA to embrace the fourth industrial revolution to harness the opportunities it offers to eradicate some of the challenges the country faces.