By Nico Daniel Smit, Master’s in Education in ICT’s in Education: University of Johannesburg.
It is incontrovertible that the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is changing how people work, live and communicate with each other. Almost every aspect of human life has been impacted by 4IR (Petrillo et al., 2018). The building blocks of 4IR have proved to be powerful agents of change. Consequently, 4IR has a significant potential of changing the things people value and the way they value them. New digital technologies have changed how people access education and information (Maynard, 2015). Social media has given a voice to many people. Online shopping and delivery services have revolutionised the retail experience (Petrillo et al., 2018). Advances in biomedical technology have led to healthier and longer lives (Lasi et al., 2014). However, 4IR is not without negatives. Therefore, people must think of how technology can change them. Most importantly, there is an urgent need for people to realise that justice, respect and fairness must remain the cornerstone of humanity. People must embrace an ethical impetus at every level of technological development in an attempt to accurately map the moral foundation of future generations.
Only ethics can ensure humanity and hence critical ethical issues must be developed to underpin the changes the world is experiencing with the 4IR (Huizingh, 2011). One critical ethical issue concerns employment. Artificial intelligence has unleashed new levels of productivity and transformed jobs (Chu & Majumdar, 2012). Human labour has been replaced by automation to the detriment of workers with less education and fewer skills (Maynard, 2015). Therefore, there is an urgent need for business organisations and governments to address the changing needs of work. Issues of training, talent development and career reinvention must be discussed to ensure that technology does not significantly affect people’s jobs (Bloem et al., 2014).
Another critical ethical issue is equality. 4IR has improved income levels and the quality of life for people (Huizingh, 2011). Unfortunately, the economic benefits of 4IR are concentrated on just a small group of people, thereby increasing inequality. There is, therefore, an urgent need to ensure that technologists embrace a higher commitment to a more inclusive development and equitable growth for all people. Further, the benefits of new technologies must be evenly distributed across all demographic groups (Huizingh, 2011). Lastly, privacy and trust are other critical ethical issues that must be addressed. Technology has broadened the scope of surveillance and impacted privacy (Lasi et al., 2014). Personal information is increasingly tracked to deliver intelligent and personalised services while at the same time, disrupting privacy (Bloem et al., 2014). While the technologies of 4IR are neutral, they are increasingly used in ways that deteriorate trust (Petrillo et al., 2018). There is, therefore, an urgent need to address these issues and ensure high levels of trust and privacy today and in the future.
Conclusively, the technologies of 4IR are redefining humanity and how people engage with one another and their planet. Considering the potential impact of technology in changing people’s lives, there is an urgent need to establish ethical guardrails that would keep the technologies on track for the benefit of humanity. In particular, people must address the impact of technology in relation to the issues of equality, employment, privacy and trust. People must intentionally develop positive values into new technologies.
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Chu, S., & Majumdar, A. (2012). Opportunities and challenges for a sustainable energy future. Nature, 488(7411), pp.294-303. https: //doi.org/10.1038/nature11475
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