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Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Man and Machine: the shifting dynamic of the 4th and 5th Industrial Revolutions

by Praba Naidoo
Each industrial revolution has brought with it phenomenal changes in terms of the use of sophisticated machinery to make our work easier and faster. During the first three Industrial Revolutions, as humans we had little or no idea that robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) would become a part of our lifestyle.

With the accelerated development in AI, the internet of things, robotics, augmented reality, and virtual reality, concepts associated with the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) - are words we are all familiar with. Libraries world-wide are increasingly deploying robots and AI for varied reasons, resulting in the dynamic change in the evolution of our jobs. As librarians, we need to focus on reskilling and embracing new training opportunities in order to thrive in our jobs, and to address the challenges we are faced with.
Technologies of 4IR have made it possible for us to shop online, book airfares and
hotel/Air/BnB accommodation, pay our bills, book a ride such as Bolt Taxi or Uber, utilise health applications (apps) that enable us to track the number of steps we have taken in a day, or to track our calorie intake and the like.              
Blockchain is an ingenious invention whereby information is distributed without being copied.  Blockchain, best known for digital currency Bitcoin, brings supply chain management thinking into all kinds
of activities that libraries undertake. Blockchain’s financial applications makes it possible to use blockchain-based currencies like bitcoin to purchase library materials such as databases with the potential to eliminate exchange rate problems between libraries and publishers.

In our continent Africa, some countries have yet to enjoy the benefits of the 2nd Industrial Revolution such as electricity. And talking about electricity, with our continuous load-shedding from Eskom, would smart grids instead of a centralised grid be the answer to our problems? A smart grid will ensure a regular, sustainable electricity supply, with fewer losses and greater reliability and security.

Some differences between ‘Man’ and Machine:

Are the services and trajectories of humanity being obscured by the power of 4IR and its economic benefits? There is a great sense of concern that 4IR is taking humans out of work, increasing our already elevated unemployment situation and creating a grim future for the next generation. The answer to these problems may be addressed in the imminent 5th Industrial Revolution.
What are some of the changes we would like to see in the next Industrial Revolution – 5th Industrial Revolution?
  • Would we like a world that is better than just being one that is more productive, more efficient and makes more financial profit?
  • Would climate change, sustainable living and saving our environment be considered?
  • Step in space with affordable space travel
  • Are we ready for driverless cars?


  1. Smart Grids: http://www.sustainable.org.za/userfiles/final%20macro%20smart%20grids%20lr.pdf  (Accessed 03/03/2020)
  2. Smart Electricity Grids: https://setis.ec.europa.eu/system/files/Technology_Information_Sheet_Smart_Grids.pdf  (Accessed 03/03/2020)
  3. Library Future Reimagined for the Fourth Industrial Revolution: UJ case study, Presented by: Christina Nomathamsanqa Mafumana, LIASA Conference 01 October 2019
  4. What is Blockchain Technology: https://blockgeeks.com/guides/what-is-blockchain-technology/

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