South African Cultural Observatory

‘Creativity is potential currency in the fourth industrial revolution’

BY 13.09.17

THE world as we know it is changing. We are already living in the technological future. The fourth industrial revolution is fundamentally disrupting the way we think, work and interact with each other and, in it, culture and creativity can be one of the major currencies, argue Prof Richard Haines (SA Cultural Observatory CEO) and Rosemary Mangope (National Arts Council CEO).

Today a state of flux is the new normal as economic systems stagnate, people migrate and the leadership gaps widen. Debates about the future are maps of uncertainty rather than clarity. Driving this insecurity, in part, is the momentum of the fourth industrial revolution and technology.

 As such moments the creative and cultural industries and the arts, culture and heritage sectors are positioned to play a powerful role in shaping, framing, communicating and influencing the future. In fact, it is our responsibility – as it’s always been – to reflect, question, resist, review and re-build when and where necessary. In short, it is our duty to reimagine the future.

While the first two industrial revolutions focused on mega-infrastructure and mass production, the third revolution is centred on electronic information technology and the internet. The fourth is a giant leap forward, characterised by a technological blurring of the lines between physical, digital and biological realms.

This revolution has seen artificial intelligence, machine learning, 3D printing, smart robotics, mass automation, and the likes of driverless cars and the internet of things transform futuristic concepts into current day realities.

As these changes gain momentum, governments and industries are largely unsure of exactly what this revolution means for the future as humans learn to adjust to increasingly complex and automated ways of life.

However, one thing that is clear:  work as we know it will change forever.

While science, technology, engineering and maths undoubtedly remain the focus of many career paths, the critical role that arts and creativity will play in this unprecedented new world is also gathering recognition. ‘Creativity capital’ is central to today’s thriving economies and is set to become even more influential as we progress through the fourth industrial revolution. It is the new currency.

In fact, the World Economic Forum has suggested that by 2020 creative thinking will be third on the list of the most important skills needed to  survive and thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.

This means that the creative economy, now more than ever, needs to be considered a powerful addition to the current world of work. Conceptualised by John Howkins in 2001, the ‘creative economy’ refers to economic systems in which value is derived from creative and imaginative qualities instead of traditional sources such as capital, land or labour. 

As the traditional bedrock of economic development continues to transform and machines and automation become standard practice, people need to reflect strongly on the role that creativity can play in shaping, framing, communicating and influencing economic and related occupational changes.

While new technologies and automation may eliminate the need for certain forms of work and labour, they will also open up previously unimagined opportunities in industries that thrive on creativity and innovation.

If society invested in creative occupations, imagine the problem-solving and design-thinking that could emerge from a populace embedded in technology but supported by imagination? Picture the new economies that would spring up in response.

A recent study by Oxford University found that up to 47% of jobs in the United States could be replaced by machines in the next 20 years. With the number of labour-intensive industries keeping South Africa’s economy afloat, our prospects are similar.

Real estate billionaire Jeff Greene in late 2015 caused a commotion arguing that robotics and artificial intelligence would kill not just blue-collar factory jobs but also many white-collar careers – including paralegals, journalists, airline pilots, and even surgeons.

Stephen Hawking has also warned that artificial intelligence and increasing automation is going to decimate middle class jobs, worsen inequality and result in significant political upheavals.

As a developing economy, South Africa needs to prepare for the inevitable impacts of automation and digital technologies. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Nesta’s recent research, ‘Creativity vs. Robots’, maintains that 86% of ‘highly creative’ jobs in the US, and 87% in the UK, have a low or no risk of being displaced by automation.

The finding that creative industries are somewhat immune to automation, for now, is good news for South Africa where the creative economy currently employs close to half a million people and contributes around 2.9% to our GDP, according to a South African Cultural Observatory employment report.  

However, for a creative economy to grow and remain viable artists, practitioners, consultants, researchers, administrators and others involved in it need to start behaving like an industry. The sector needs to manage its evolution into this undeniable future, and in a sense, future- proof itself otherwise it risks becoming progressively irrelevant.

We cannot begin to talk a South African creative economy if the very creatives operating it don’t see the bigger picture, or worse, are sceptical of the ‘industrial side’.

While not unproblematic, the creative economy exists.  It makes money – sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. It inspires and revolts. It brings people together and tears people apart. It creates. It manifests in products and delivers services. It serves a need and a want.  

This industry is not perfect by any means but it is productive. It also has a distinctive advantage in that it is flexible and dynamic, more open to change and willing to embrace new ways of work than more structured industries.  

It is for this reason that the creative and cultural industries – and the arts, culture and heritage sectors–not only offer opportunities for viable and long-lasting occupations, but also ‘vocations’ or ‘pursuits of passion’.

Because machines lack passion they can’t dance, or write a moving play, or analyse the world and distil it into an abstraction that resonates with audiences. The time is ripe for us to express our fundamental humanity – our creativity, ingenuity and compassion – and make it a future currency.

 

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Prof Richard Haines is the SA Cultural Observatory chief executive officer and Rosemary Mangope is the chief executive officer of the National Arts Council.

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