By Tinotenda Ruvimbo Mparutsa (Ms), LLM in Labour Law candidate at the University of Johannesburg
The fourth industrial revolution coalesces physical, digital, and biological purview. It is an integration of technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, 3-D printing, robotics, quantum editing, and augmented reality. The World Economic Forum, a front runner of the fourth industrial revolution, estimates that by the year 2022 75 million jobs will have been substituted by machines. Promisingly, 133 million new jobs will be produced to keep abreast with digitised workplaces. The areas set to experience the most employment growth are internet technologies, engineering, mathematics, and architecture. As the revolution takes hold, female participation as vestige in preceding industrial revolutions remain critically low. Though a concerted effort by relevant stakeholders at female inclusion may change the current orientation. Whether the fourth industrial revolution does indeed become a vehicle of change or if it will share the experience of earlier revolutions, will perhaps best be conclusively reflected upon in the fifth industrial revolution.
Meanwhile, the corona virus pandemic has accelerated the fourth industrial revolution. To date the endurance and commercial viability of many business enterprises is due to technology. This includes digital enterprises who are thriving during these economically trying times. It is by no means an overstatement that the adage ‘’business as usual’’ no longer exists and many businesses have been propelled towards transforming into a more digitised form. Yet women in science and technology remain marginalised.
An adaption of Professor Charlene Africa’s speech as delivered at the South African Women in Science Awards gala dinner on 15 August 2019, remarked of an apprehension about the absence of women scientists in the fourth industrial revolution. The adaption further noted that ideas informing algorithms surge the peril of artificial intelligence being pervaded with a male bias. This will not only adversely affect women in science but women who consume the products and services of the fourth industrial revolution. To this end, “an equal byte of the apple” does not suffice in the endeavour to address disparities between the experiences of women and men in the digital sphere. Instead the power to influence the trajectory lies in integrating women, on the same par as men, into the process of cultivating the land which hosts the tree that bears the “apple”.