INTO AFRICA: Transnet chief executive Siyabonga Gama.

JOHANNESBURG - The brilliant economist John Maynard Keynes once foretold of a future he called “technological unemployment”. 

In his 1930 paper, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, he optimistically predicted a world where computerisation and automation would ensure that we all worked 15-hour weeks with ample leisure time on our hands to do the things that we really wanted to do.

It's hard to imagine what he would make of the world we live in today, especially had he been a fly on the wall at the most recent World Economic Forum at Davos.

The technological disruptions that he alluded to in the 1930s were merely glimmers of a distant future - a future that has now arrived.

It is apropos, therefore, that this year's theme for the event was "A Shared Future in a Fractured World". The fractured world is both a reference to the political fissures we experience almost on a daily basis and, equally relevant, the technological disruptions and upheavals we are subject to.

Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, has always been passionate about emerging technologies and in his latest book, Shaping the 4th Industrial Revolution, he outlines the most important dynamics of today's technological revolution, succinctly illustrating how we can actively shape an inclusive and sustainable future.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, of course, is the defining zeitgeist of our nascent century. It promises a fusion of technologies poised to disrupt almost all industries and transform systems of production, management and governance.

Dizzyingly rapid advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and computing are fundamentally changing the way we both work and live.

Disruptive innovation has become a new buzzword - and with good reason. It is innovation that creates new markets, displacing established market-leading firms, products and alliances.

We have seen this with Uber, Airbnb and, of course, social media. There is a new digital world which aims to simplify the manner and way in which we transact.

The changes for us mean new technologies, new market entrants, new customer expectations and new business models.

Technological literacy becomes even more critical if we are to succeed.

As the American economist Lawrence Summers recently pointed out in The Economist magazine, technical change is increasingly reshaping the labour market. To put it bluntly, jobs are at risk of being automated and, with it, the attendant problems of high unemployment.

The onus is on us, therefore, to create technologically-intensive jobs and to nurture skilled workers.

The very nature of how we do business is changing and we have to adapt to these changes - and adapt rapidly.

Crucially, we all need to invent, develop and bring to the market new service offerings and products. We have to be cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, digitally supported - and most importantly - seamless, reliable and visible.

At Transnet we are also rapidly adapting to the global technological changes we are confronted with.

As we are growing ever closer through digital communication platforms and shrinking our physical borders to harness the infinite opportunities of technology, Transnet is currently transitioning from its Market Demand Strategy, characterised by accelerated capital investment, towards the Transnet 4.0 strategy, which is focused on repositioning Transnet, and the country's freight system, for competitiveness within the fast-changing, technology-driven context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What does this mean for Transnet going forward? Although we've placed great value on our infrastructure expansion and logistics activities, we now need to acknowledge the exciting prospects sprawled before us in the fast-emerging digital opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

As Transnet, we require resilience, agility and rapid adaptation to transition successfully over the coming decades. On a continent still widely beset by social inequalities, food insecurity and persistent job losses, a transition to a futuristic digital world seems remote.

This, however, will be exactly the fertile soil from which emerging technologies, entrepreneurial ideas and digital innovations will grow and thrive, leapfrogging the growing pains experienced by developed economies.

Transnet has a critical role to play in furthering South Africa's strategic and economic objectives and is actively refreshing its brand as it moves into new markets, expands and diversifies its service offering, and redefines its market position.

As such, we are experimenting with blockchain technology in our transacting, utilising drones in our rail business, exploiting 3D printing in our R&D and developing smart applications to manage access in our ports.

As a state-owned company, Transnet continues to leave an indelible mark on the lives of all South Africans. With a geographical footprint that covers our entire country, Transnet is inextricably involved in all aspects of life in South Africa. As such, we will continue to play a pivotal role in the lives of all our fellow South Africans.

Siyabonga Gama is the chief executive of Transnet.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Independent Group

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE