The period we’re living through is the first one ever where the conscious actions of a single species will decide its fate. It’s also one of many, when a single microorganism might just do the same. In other words – it’s the Anthropocene Era. And it’s all about punctuated equilibrium.
So what do these two arcane concepts have to do with track and trace, nano-materials, rapid diagnostics, drone deliveries, big data, thermal-based imaging, 3-D printing, sustainable industry, or remote working, learning and teaching? Well, with the very nature, balance and composition of our planetary home being determined by homo sapiens, perhaps it’s the ‘sapiens’ part that needs a little further investigation. That’s because it comes from the Latin word meaning all of “rational”, “sane”, “of sound mind”, “wise”, “judicious”, “understanding” and “discreet”. And if that doesn’t ring enough alarm bells when talking about humanity, then perhaps we need to look at those other two words – punctuated equilibrium.
This is a theory propounded in 1972 by biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, and it holds that populations of living organisms tend to experience a significant amount of evolutionary change in short, stressful bursts. In short, what they were saying is that evolution is not a gradual process, but one which takes sudden leaps when the environment is faced with a crisis.
And that brings us to track and trace, nano-materials, rapid diagnostics, drone deliveries, big data, thermal-based imaging, 3-D printing, sustainable industry, and remote working, learning and teaching. All of them are aspects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
The University of Johannesburg (UJ), as an academic and research leader in Africa, is at the forefront in looking at 4IR, and what it means for our societies, our economic pillars, our concepts of social justice, our approach to teaching and learning, and our environment. And UJ has understood that 4IR, as a fact of life in the 21st Century, is watershed moment – a revolution in our societal evolution.
Moreover, it understands that what we’re living through now, on a global scale, is the coalescence of two revolutionary tidal forces – a combination of, on the one hand, technologies that are in the process of radically changing the way we do things, and on the other, a pandemic that has already rattled the very foundations of our social, economic, cultural and health structures.