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Industry 5.0 – Man and machine driving mass personalisation

Johannesburg, 25 May 2021
Carel du Toit, CEO, Mint Group.
Carel du Toit, CEO, Mint Group.

While much of the world – and South Africa – is still grappling with the advent of the fourth industrial revolution (the age of digitisation), the dawn of Industry 5.0 – the age of personalisation – is already upon us.

What does that mean for those still languishing in last century’s third industrial revolution or hovering on the fringes of IR4 or Industry 4.0? Does not having embraced Industry 4.0 (yet) doom them languishing forever in the doldrums of technological stagnation?

“No,” says Carel du Toit, Mint Group CEO, who explains that the various industrial revolutions did not all start and end on a particular date. They tended to overlap and blend into each other over years or decades.

“Industrial revolutions are more evolution than revolution, but with the timeframes between each having shortened considerably,” he adds.

The first industrial revolution – the age of mechanisation with the advent of steam-driven machinery – continued for over a century before the introduction of electrification enabled the second industrial revolution with its characteristic line-driven mass production.

It then took almost another century before advances in electronics and computers heralded the start of Industry 3.0 – the age of automation. This was followed, less than 40 years later, by Industry 4.0, which is marked by the use of cyber physical systems on connected devices (IOT) and AI to automate processes. It is the age of the smart, cognitive machine – the computer – with not much room for humans.

And now Industry 5.0 is at hand, and – it seems – humankind is making a comeback.

In his concept paper, Industry 5.0 – a Human-centric Solution, Professor Saeid Nahavandi, Director of the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation at Deakin University, Australia, said Industry 5.0 would “bring back human workers to the factory floor” by pairing “human and machine to further utilise human brainpower and creativity to increase process efficiency by combining workflows with intelligent systems… Industry 5.0 will be a synergy between humans and autonomous machines”.

These advances could go beyond the manufacturing arena. According to Dr A Shaji George, with Industry 5.0, the interdependence of man and machines allows for cognitive computing to combine with human intelligence in a way that allows for mass customisation and personalisation for humans.

Mint Group’s Du Toit agrees. He maintains that the ability to personalise products and services on a mass scale, could be one of the greatest benefits of Industry 5.0.

“You could not have Industry 5.0 as a direct advance on 4.0. Industry 4.0 is about getting everything digitised – from businesses and manufacturing processes to online learning and ride sharing services. It is about gathering data on, for example, how you drive and where you drive when you use Google Maps and effectively creating your digital twin.

“Once your digital twin has been established, companies are able to understand how this operates within the digital ecosystem and can use this information to provide you with a better and more proactive service,” Du Toit explains.

He notes that in tandem with the gap between the digital and physical worlds shrinking, the digital world is getting smarter.

“With everyone and everything having a digital twin, it’s possible to run AI and smart analytics on this data, and then to personalise it.”

This is not a futuristic dream: mass personalisation is already happening in a wide range of industries and goes beyond physical products. It could manifest in medical treatments and customised health regimens. It could even find its way into the operating theatre where a trained surgeon would work with a robotic assistant to perform complex and personalised surgery.

It is already happening in marketing, training and education, finance, insurance and healthcare (think of all the data collected via your smartwatch during an exercise workout) with programmes like Discovery Vitality.

In the educational arena, particularly with the growth in online learning, there are systems in place that have the ability to monitor how you study and this, combined with spot surveys, quickly understand how you consume content. Having understood this, your learning path can be personalised.

However, Du Toit says, this type of personalised learning can also extend to the physical realm. Mint has implemented a system at a local university where, by monitoring not only a student’s class attendance but also their attentiveness in class, it is possible to institute personalised interventions that could increase the student’s chances of success.

He dismisses concerns that mass personalisation as envisaged in Industry 5.0 could constitute a vast invasion of privacy by pointing to the increasingly stringent privacy regulations being enforced around the world, including South Africa.

“The regulators are closing the gaps for personal data to be exploited or used for any purpose other than the purpose for which it was gathered, and for which the owner of that data has agreed. Companies that do not comply face ever higher fines – and an avalanche of bad publicity,” he adds.

While much of mass personalisation to date has largely been the result of smart computers, AI and algorithms, Du Toit believes humans will plays an increasingly important role.

“AI does not happen on its own. AI machines are not (yet) capable of empathy, of dealing with unique exceptions, of rapid adaption to change. Similarly, while a customer service bot can deal with many standard customer queries, a human is often required to intervene and, using the data accumulated by the bot, resolve more complex situations. The action taken by the human could be fed back to improve the bot’s future performance, but there will always be new situations that arise, situations that only a human – working in collaboration with a machine – can deal with,” Du Toit concludes.