Your next co-worker could be a robot - CNBC Africa

Your next co-worker could be a robot

Special Report

by Monique Vanek 0

Possibly in our lifetime but definitely in our kids’ jobs such as domestic workers will be done by artificial intelligence. Photo: Pixabay

Last week many South Africans witnessed thousands joining the Economic Freedom Fighter’s march to Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile (see below).  The EFF handed over a memorandum to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s CEO Nicky Newton-King demanding that all listed companies introduce a minimum wage of R4 500 for all their workers, and consider the sectoral minimum wages contained in the EFF Elections Manifesto, such as, R4 500 for domestic workers and R7 500 for private security guards.


Its call for a more equitable society was noble but the conversation belongs to a bygone era. It is time for the EFF and others to change the conversation if they truly believe in the economic liberation of Africans.

If you are in your 20s or 30s on average you’ll have 30 to 40 years left of your working life. Possibly in our lifetime but definitely in our kids’ jobs such as domestic workers and private security guards will no longer be done by humans – artificial intelligence will be doing these jobs heralding the “Second Machine Age”.

The Relay service robot (see video) is being used at five hotels in the United States including the Holiday Inn Express in Redwood City and Aloft locations in Cupertino and Silicon Valley. It is essentially making deliverymen redundant.

Atlas, a bipedal humanoid robot is being developed by the American robotics company Boston Dynamics and the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to save human lives after a natural disaster (see video).

Unless the conversation changes and we start to perceive our lives in such a world we will be left out of this narrative and behind.

The first thing we need to consider is the education system. Are our kids getting the education to be creators of the Second Machine Age or have the ability to compete in it?

In South Africa of those between the age of 15-24 more than half are unemployed and the number is growing – if we are giving future generations an education that will condemn them to an unskilled job such as a domestic worker we are failing them.

The second thing we need to consider is how we will augment with artificial intelligence in the workplace to ensure employability. The June issue of the HBR dealt with this in-depth arguing that if you want to stay employed you need to look at upskilling yourself to have the knowledge that a machine cannot easily get, get the skill to work on the technology or modify it, specialise in something for which a computer will not be able to do or build the next generation of technology.

Thirdly as a country and a continent we need to consider what role we will have in The Second Machine Age – will we be quiet observers as technology takes over or will we define the narrative?

Currently most of the robots are being developed by males in the western world to suite a perceived need – but can they create the future for women and Africa?

Lastly we need to consider the moral and philosophical dilemma the Second Machine Age will pose. Already billionaire Elon Musk has contributed millions to make artificial intelligence safer in cases such as robot trading where the machine decides to call the shots how do you change its command? In an autonomous car world, if it skips a robot or knocks down a pedestrian what are the repercussions?

It is time to change the conversation in more ways than one if we are to play an active part in where the future is going. Let’s start.