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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds The five enabling technologies, we’re going to spend a few minutes looking at. The first one– and, as we said, most important one– on the list was information technologies, perhaps for many of us the better-known kind of technology. These are things such as computer, power computing, ICT in general, telecommunications, cell phones, devices. I think many people are aware of the broad trends. I’ll just remind you that one of the interesting longer-term trends is that computer powering has, for the last number of decades, doubled roughly every 18 months, the so-called Moore’s Law. Along with that, we find that sales of tablets and laptops are obviously increasing rapidly every year. We all know about that.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds Then, as mentioned earlier, landlines as a form of communication are not becoming defunct but are certainly being surpassed easily and comfortably by cell phones. Round about the early 1990s– well, there were hardly any cell phones being used on this planet. Today, we’re looking at right about 7 billion cell phone subscriptions. Now, there are 7 billion people on planet Earth. Theoretically, everyone on this planet has a cell phone– not quite true, of course. Some people have more than one subscription. But it does indicate how, in a very short period of time, cell phones have proliferated.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 seconds So, too, has the growth in the number of internet hosts from virtually no hosts back in the ’90s to approaching 1 billion by late 2014 and, as said earlier, nowhere more so than in Africa. Although Africa’s internet penetration is still very low, it’s growing at a tremendous speed. Then, if we look at some aspects of biotechnology, one of the better-known and also controversial issues here is genetically-modified crops. We genetically modify all kinds of organisms in a way that, in the era of agriculture, for instance, could imply and does imply drought-resistant food stuff or disease-resistant food stuff. There are ethical issues. There always will be in the world of technology.

Skip to 2 minutes and 31 seconds But, once again, we find in the last 20 years or so a tremendous increase in the use of genetically-modified crops. Back in the mid 1990s, barely 60 million hectares of genetically-modified farming. We’re now looking at close to 180 million hectares. Interestingly, South Africa is not quite leading the pack– not at all– but thereabouts in terms of having farm land and the genetically-modified crops. The country leading, of course, is the USA followed by Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, and then South Africa. So we have the eighth-largest area of land under genetically-modified crops.

Skip to 3 minutes and 21 seconds Materials technology– the latest story is, of course, nanotechnology, microscopically-small, almost-invisible units. But along with that, another big story leader, of course, is the 3D printing market. It’s quite remarkable that a machine can reproduce, can print objects. And the sky’s the limit. We’re not sure yet how far this is going to go. Already, we’ve seen signs or evidence of the ability to print basic objects. But as these markets become more sophisticated and the technology become more sophisticated, we might be able to 3D print a human organ. An interesting question here is, what impact will this have on the workforce? To what extent will 3D printing substitute for human beings on the factory floor– a particularly interesting problem in Africa?

Skip to 4 minutes and 14 seconds We can understand that 3D printing could be useful in those countries where the labor forces are stagnating or shrinking. In Africa, we have a huge labor force and, often, an unemployed labor force. So here, too, we have some sort of ethical, moral, social questions being asked. Energy, our fourth enabling technology– obviously here there are many debates, not least of which the debate between renewable energy and nonrenewable energy. Nonrenewable is to be the fossil fuels. Oil is a good example and coal. Renewable– well, here we have things such as wind power, solar power, tidal power. And clearly, from an environmental point of view, the latter are more preferable but sometimes more expensive.

Skip to 5 minutes and 4 seconds So the technology is there, but it might be rather expensive. And this is going to be, I think, part of the backdrop to many debates in the years and decades that lie ahead. What is most appropriate source of energy for a country like South Africa, like many in Africa that are not as well off as some more-advanced economies? Then, finally, transportation technologies– the traditional ones are obviously rail, bus, auto, ships. The speed is obviously picking up. But with particular reference to automobile or car technology, again it brings up a previous point. The combustion engine remains almost a default. But we’re going to find and we are finding all kinds of so-called hybrid cars, accommodations of electricity, battery-driven cars.

Skip to 5 minutes and 57 seconds Again, there’s a feasibility question here, an economic question here. But in the light of the possibility that our fossil fuels are somewhat limited or finite, it would be an imperative to start developing cars that can be driven in alternative ways. In this country, we see early signs of electric cars. We see signs here and there of stations where you can plug in you battery, as it were. So at a filling station, fill up with petrol. And plug in your battery and recharge your car. It’s happening– expensive, but it’s happening. And I think the bottom line in all these things is that amazing technologies and new developments and innovations are happening every single day.

Skip to 6 minutes and 45 seconds But this is not new to the world. One can imagine that, thousands of years ago, when somebody for the first time managed to light a fire and then put it out again and light it up again, it was probably in many ways more revolutionary than internet or email. Or, when many years ago someone came up with thing called a wheel, that probably changed the shape of society more dramatically than any of today’s modern discoveries. So technologies are constantly getting bigger, or sometimes smaller but better and quicker. The big question is, how to we as a society deal with these technologies? Do we want to deal with them? What’s our view towards them?

Skip to 7 minutes and 24 seconds And to end off with a little, perhaps, amusing story, there’s a chap in America, a professor who reckons he likes asking the following question of the audiences he speaks to. He gives them two choices– two scenarios, really. He says, scenario number one is where you, as an audience, have access to all technology up until round about the year 1995. In addition, you have clean running water in your house. And you have flush toilets. There’s your first scenario. The second scenario is you have access to all technology up until today. But you do not have running water in your house nor flush toilets. And the question, now, to the audience is, which one would you prefer?

Skip to 8 minutes and 7 seconds If you had to choose between the two, which one would you prefer? Not surprisingly, the majority answer is the first one. People would rather have technology only up until 1994– so no internet, no email but, at the same time, have running water and flush toilets. His conclusion, therefore, is that, despite everything, 19th century technology is, for most people, far more valuable than 21st century technology.

The five enabling technologies

Let’s look again at the five enabling technologies, namely:

  • ICT
  • Biotechnology
  • Material Technology
  • Energy Technology
  • Transportation Technology

Technologies are constantly getting bigger, better and quicker. The big question is, how do we as a society deal with these technologies?

Do we want to deal with them?

What is our view towards these technologies?

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This video is from the free online course:

Futurism and Business: Dealing with Complexity

University of Stellenbosch Business School Executive Development