The IFK focuses on seven themes, each championed by a research group, which drives innovative research and organises relevant events.
The Blockchain and the Cryptoverse Research Group is dedicated to researching the disparate strands of blockchain-driven technologies, their applications, economic models, ecosystems and consequently, new governance structures that have arisen since the first blockchain, Bitcoin, was built in 2009. The Group also researches cryptocurrencies, Decentralised Finance (DeFi), Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs), Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), the metaverse, Web3, regulation as well as new models of trust and ownership. The Blockchain and the Cryptoverse Research Group aims to develop skills and knowledge at a postgraduate level and an executive level in the private sector.
The purpose of the research group, Data Science Across Disciplines, is to support the educational and intellectual growth of the field of Data Science in the region, and further afield. The Group takes an interdisciplinary approach to both the application of data science and the sense-making theoretical frameworks that shape its development. At the University of Johannesburg, the Group aims to develop much-needed specialist educational programmes at the postgraduate level, to support student skills development and the upskilling of current professionals in the field. Through cutting-edge research, product development, and close collaboration with industry partners and professionals, DSAD drives innovation in Data Science to support UJ as the driver of the 4IR.
Centralised AI and Control Systems have inherent weaknesses. The Decentralised Artificial Intelligence and Control Systems Research Group is dedicated to exploring and developing fully decentralised AI and Control Systems in a transdisciplinary manner. The Group also works on integrating AI into traditional Control Systems approaches and developing new teaching materials for Control Systems classes, emphasising the multi- and transdisciplinary nature of engineering practice and the need for just-in-time pedagogy, blended learning, structured thinking, problem-solving skills, learning how to learn, and mastering how to think. Further research is carried out into reimagining the field of Control Systems and its role in the 4IR.
The Future of Diplomacy Research Group seeks to promote the understanding of diplomacy, negotiation and statecraft in contemporary international politics. The Group aims to support research in modern diplomatic practice by redefining diplomacy in contemporary and futuristic contexts in an increasingly complex and globalised world. FoD contributes to the United Nations (UN’s) Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.
The Future of Health Research Group takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding humanity’s efforts to improve health and deal with sickness to improve future medical and public health initiatives. The Group’s broad mandate includes philosophical, sociological, anthropological, and other disciplinary approaches, and covers clinical medicine, public health, epidemiology, biomedical research, and other health knowledge. The Group investigates existing medical crises and the management thereof. It seeks to critique the potential medical techniques and strategies of the future, such as the application of AI in Medicine.
Africans must have total collective agency in all matters of public health on the continent. To enable this agenda, the FoH is incubating the African Agency in Public Health Institute (AAPHI). AAPHI is based on the premise that Africans must be in control of their contextually grounded, well-designed and efficacious healthcare systems. They must fully participate in the entire medicine value chain from investment, research & development, clinical trials, manufacturing, distribution and delivery to citizens. This requires enhanced pharmaceutical and bio-tech capabilities across the continent. Africans must have world-class medical, science and technology institutions across the continent – centres of undisputed and demonstrable excellence. Continental, regional, and national health policies must be driven by wellness (preventative) and not disease management (curative). The best way to achieve these aspirations is an Africa-wide strategy leveraging the economies of scale gained through continental integration and African unity, anchored by the African Diaspora. All this should be enhanced by partnerships – on African terms – of the continent as one entity with partners from the Global North and South.
A starting point for AAPHI is establishing the requirements, conditions and strategy necessary for all vaccines and medicines consumed in Africa to be products of research, development and manufacturing on the continent. The next step is executing this strategy.
The FoH Group contributes toward the attainment of SDG 3: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”.
Green Futures seeks to positively understand, appreciate and harness earth’s plant life and the socio-ecosystems they interact with for the betterment of humanity and nature. The Group draws on a range of disciplines, not limited to science, and has a firm grounding in sociology, history and policy. At the core of the Group is research on the generation of green energy, renewable energy, and energy storage, and it will be researching South Africa’s transformation from coal to clean energy. The Group is also championing climate change in the 4IR and hydropolitics (water politics) in the region. GF contributes to the UN’s SDG 7: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; and SDG 6: “Clean water and sanitation for all”.
With the advent of the AI-driven Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), the ‘Future of Work’ has been a popular research and public discourse area. The inherent assumption is that jobs are in trouble from machines and technology. The ‘Work of the Future’ approach has nuanced differences from the traditional ‘Future of Work’ narratives. In fact, it challenges the latter. The new disposition is that ‘technology is neither the problem nor the solution.’ High industrial productivity and strong labour markets can coexist. In the 4IR, more and better jobs can be built. To make this happen, what robust systems and institutions that can leverage technological advancement and innovation should be put in place? How can workers be supported through long cycles of technological disruption? These questions constitute part of the mandate of the Research Group.
Furthermore, what are the institutional innovations that complement technological change? What are the skills and re-skilling programs that emphasise work-based and hybrid training and learning? How do we empower workers to become and remain productive in an endlessly disruptive workplace? How can we ensure that the 4IR means more jobs and not less?
Other research areas under this Group include the employability of graduates, Higher Education and 4IR, and acquisition of digital skills, capabilities and competencies. The Metaverse and its new jobs are also investigated.
The Work of the Future Research Group contributes to the realisation of SDG 8: “Decent work and economic growth”.