It is sometimes amusing to listen to people talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI), while they confuse it with Automation and Robotics and go on to say they are taking our jobs. I chuckle quietly and think to myself that if you look back long enough, they have already replaced many jobs and the fear that they continue to do so is misplaced.

I say so not because AI and other emerging technologies will not replace some jobs, but because it is normal for us to get better and more efficient at doing things, we have been doing this since we came into being.

There is also the confusion around the 4th Industrial Revolution, especially across Africa. Since Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF), published his book of the same name attempting to document and frame our progress as humanity through different phases of Industrial Revolutions, many people I read and come across seem to confuse what Schwab describes as the 3rd Industrial Revolution with what is the buzz phrase now, the 4th Industrial Revolution.

I think this is one of the coolest looking tractors I have ever seen, but more than just looking cool, it is autonomous and gives us a sneak peek into the very near future of crop farming. CNH Industrial introduced these functional concept self-driving tractors in 2016.

4IR confusion

The common thing is to confuse robotics and automation (which Schwab places under the 3rd Industrial Revolution) with AI and Machine Learning (ML), which according to Schwab fall under the 4th Industrial Revolution. The other common thing is to say that before the 4th Industrial Revolution can happen, the 3rd must be completed first.

To me, this is all mental gymnastics that really, in the bigger scheme of things, don’t really matter.

That’s why I prefer framing such a discussion differently and away from the Industrial Revolutions framework, and framing it more about what is offline that still needs to be digitized and what technologies play a key role at each stage of the following continuum:

This is because, if you look closely, it ultimately is all about making the offline (physical) world readable by software, what some call digitization (I’ve read and heard some use what I find to be a hideous word - digitilization). In farming this would be things such as digitally mapping out the farm so that you can plan the routes of self-driving tractors, among other things.

Better and efficient way of doing things

Strictly speaking, technology can be defined as a better and more efficient way of doing things. As such, any country or organization that deploys technology to its functions will always be at an advantage and given that it is about improving how we do things, guaranteed jobs will be lost as we have seen in history.

Think about back in the day, there used to be telephone switchboards and exchanges manned by human beings who would literally route telephone calls. As soon as the telephone system was turned into a cable network whose routing was automated, those jobs vanished, calls happened faster and more efficiently.

This brings me to this video about autonomous tractors, not only do they look so cool that for a split second I considered farming, they improve efficiency, reduce costs and make farms more productive…at the expense of jobs.

The CNH Industrial Autonomous Tractor Concept

You could probably be thinking that the jobs bloodbath (especially in Africa) would be too much and we need to regulate against mass adoption of such farming technology. Well, the problem is it reduces our competitiveness as individual countries, because we will be up against countries who have highly efficient and less error prone autonomous tractors (I’m using one example for the purposes of brevity) that work on a farm 24 hours a day compared to our farms that would be heavily dependant on human labour that can only work for several hours a day and prone to errors.

Near future

The other issue is such technology is not far away.

Already, in the USA, instead of waiting for companies such as CNH Industrial to release their autonomous tractors into production, a company such as ATC is remaking existing tractors not only into electric tractors (instead f diesel) but in some cases autonomous.

ATC self driving tractor that is used on some farms in America.

My fear is while we are (rightfully so) complaining that they are taking our jobs, other countries are improving their competitiveness and potentially leaving us behind, further destroying the very jobs we are trying to protect.

P.S. I don’t want to delve into what the solution to this is, some have suggested an improved education system, as I feel I am not well versed on that.

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