Nelson Mandela Foundation


The University of Johannesburg Choral Group begins proceedings with a song

22 July, 2011 – Harmonies of the University of Johannesburg Choral Group filled the Conference Hall at the Soweto Campus to welcome Professor Ismail Serageldin’s presentation entitled “In Conversations with Youth – the Shape of Tomorrow. The seven pillars of the knowledge revolution.”

Convened by the Nelson Mandela Foundation Centre of Memory and Dialogue, the presentation was a precursor to the Ninth Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture that Prof Serageldin will present tomorrow evening.

“It’s a privilege to hold a talk of such magnitude for the first time on this campus,” said Dr Joe Manyaka, Soweto Campus director, as he welcomed Prof Serageldin and guests. “Let us all remember that we are here today because of the name Nelson Mandela.”

In his introduction to Prof Serageldin, the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Achmat Dangor said, “These days I hear so often about [concepts] such as social cohesion and structural change, but what do they really mean? I think Prof Serageldin will give us some insights.”


Dr Ismail Serageldin speaks to students and guests

Prof Serageldin’s opening had the audience on the edge of their seats. “What I want to talk to you about today is truly revolutionary. I believe we are on the cusp of something as revolutionary as the invention of writing, something of huge impact to humanity. We are about to witness the knowledge of the world at our fingertips.”

Prof Serageldin’s presentation centred on seven major characteristics of this knowledge revolution – parsing, life and organisation; image and text; humans and machines; complexity and chaos; computation and research; convergence and transformation; and pluri-disciplinary and policy.

“The guys that invented the internet and the world wide web have changed the world,” said Prof Serageldin. “The birth of the internet is the most transformative event of the century, maybe even humanity. Social media has risen and the Metaweb is coming. Beyond tomorrow who knows where we are going. What has been is no more.”

Prof Serageldin commented on the explosive growth in communications that allowed us to contact each other at the speed of light. “Boy, do I remember the old style,” he said to much laughter. “But this revolution is inevitable.”

He predicted an explosion of knowledge at our fingertips. “The future of the web is an interconnected map of knowledge, what with so much cross-referencing.”

He said information on any subject would be provided when and where needed and that the norm would become to use images with some text, rather than text with some images.


A student asks Prof Serageldin about how her generation is perceived

Discussing the development of computers, Prof Serageldin said, “In the future, with the exception of pure maths and some philosophical questions, in every other field of knowledge humans will need machines to access, retrieve, manipulate and add to the body of knowledge. We are also moving from an age of data collection to one of understanding the connections between collections.”

He explained that our knowledge, whether written on a scroll or not, had not changed much. “Now that is suddenly changing and teachers, schools, universities and museums need support.”

After his presentation Prof Serageldin welcomed a volley of questions from the audience. In answer to a query on developing countries being left behind in the technology race, he said, “The digital divide is rapidly disappearing everywhere. As quickly, we are moving away from the desktop computer to the tablet and cellphone. Yes, the billions of people hungry right now have no use for these devices, and they will fall behind. On the whole the large majority has the technologically advanced machines, but these are becoming more inexpensive and more easily available.”


A student shares his opinion with Prof Serageldin

On the loss of human contact being another price to pay, Prof Serageldin said, “There is no substitute for human interaction. If you are someone who needs it you will never find a replacement in a computer. Online friendships are shallow and will never provide the human touch. You will always have to find that elsewhere.”

Prof Serageldin ended his lecture by saying, “We need to better advance the human family towards a sustainable future, and we have to work together in this technology explosion. This revolution of knowledge is happening whether we like it or not. It’s not a question of ‘is it good or bad that machines are coming?’. This is not based on choice. It just is.

“And remember that this is just a reflection of what I think is going to happen in the given circumstances. I just ask you to take from this lecture an invitation to reflect on some very profound emerging trends that will be fast-forwarding us into the future.”

This lecture has been made possible through the support of SAP as primary donor with supporting contributions of the Swedish Postcode Lottery and the Coca-Cola Foundation.



Chief Executive of the NMF Mr Achmat Dangor introduces the speaker


Prof Serageldin fields questions from the audience


The impact of technology was a major theme in Prof Serageldin’s talk


Ms Hannie Sander from the University of Johannesburg thanks guests and speakers