Machine learning, big data and artificial intelligence – those catchphrases of the fourth industrial revolution – will eat many of our jobs. That’s inevitable. Profmed’s podcast series The Professional has been looking into how the world of work is busy adapting in surprising ways to our tech revolution.

As computers become smarter, robots more sophisticated, and the world more connected, everything – including the way we look after our teeth – will change. Yes, even the dental industry is poised for a digital transformation that will see diagnoses, treatment plans and patients’ health records handled by computers. It’s been dubbed digital dentistry – or dentistry 4.0.

Counter-intuitively, these technological advances are making the dental industry more human. Instead of dentists sitting for hours by themselves, trying to come up with a treatment plan, they can now play around with options with their patients – because computers are doing the heavy lifting. They can show their patients 3D models of what their smiles could look like, and let them choose.

This more human approach is going to open doors for a new breed of dentist – it’s going to be less about injections and drilling and pulling out teeth, and more about a personal connection.

In fact, in the context of the fourth industrial revolution, any professional’s greatest skill is not the ability to fit in, but to stand out. After all, uniformity can be replicated by computers, uniqueness can’t.

And uniqueness is something Dr Smile has in spades.

Dr who?

Dr Lex Rawhani is a dentist – a celebrity dentist, no less, who counts Bonang Matheba,  Cassper Nyovest, Terry Pheto, Nasty C, Maps Maponyane, Pearl Thusi and AKA among his clients. (His Insta account has 75 000 followers.) But he’s also a university lecturer, a philanthropist and youth worker, a jewellery and fashion designer, and hip-hop artist. With his sharp haircut and trimmed beard, jeans, leather jacket, and silver bling on every finger, he looks about as far from a conservative doctor as you could imagine.

And that’s just how he likes it. Raised by his Persian immigrant parents in the Bahai faith, he learnt early on to “dedicate the precious days of your life to the betterment of humanity”. His childhood was spent “being taken to meetings, trips, outreaches, service projects in which my parents and other members of the Bahai community would go to every part of South Africa, every township, every rural area, every upper class area – everything.”

Says Lex: “We have a lot of bubble life in South Africa, where people are comfortable in their bubble. My parents would always make sure that they pop that.”

And so, while other teens were trying for acceptance, Lex was thinking, “How can I develop my capacities and talents and interests in a direction that doesn’t make me fit in?”

After matriculating in 2004 he spent time in Greece to work with Doctors of the World, who provide basic healthcare for refugees who survive the dangerous crossing from Turkey. His basic Persian language skills helped him as the first point of contact with refugees, and as a 17-year-old he learnt an important life lesson: how to listen to some incredibly distressing stories. Later, he says, this willingness to listen stood him in good stead with patients, both while he was studying and afterwards.

Lex enrolled in dentistry and recalls a lecturer asking, in the first-year class, who had taken art as a subject in high school. Lex was the only one in the class of 45 who put up his hand. The lecturer said, “You shouldn’t be doing dentistry if you’re not artistic.” It makes sense, actually. Dentistry is practical, and artistic: “You have to see shapes, shades, colours, designs. You have to be obsessive about detail,” says Lex.

Lex’s philanthropic passions find an outlet in Project Smile, where he helps people who need expert dentistry but can’t afford it. He focuses particularly on victims of domestic violence or violent crime. One of the people Lex has helped is Bukelwa Moerane who was kidnapped by a criminal one evening in 2017 on her way home from Maponya Mall. She managed to throw herself out of the moving car and was found bleeding and badly hurt – several of her front teeth knocked out or broken. Lex repaired her teeth for free.

He spends weekends working with children around Johannesburg, running community development classes on the Bahai faith. As a former preemie himself (Lex was born two months early) he also runs a charity called Tiny Seeds that supports families with premature babies.

For Lex, it’s about recognising your privilege or your fortune and making the most of it.

“The privilege, the resources I’ve been given… sometimes undeserved. What am I going to now do with it? The answer is not to suddenly give away everything. How do you use it to empower, how do you use it to benefit how to use it to uplift and inspire?”

Once, worried about having chosen a career that seemed to exclude other parts of his personality, a psychologist friend asked him, “Why does it have to be either/or?”, words he says have shaped his life.

“And so when I speak to my students at Wits, or the youth that I teach or the ones trying to figure out what they’re going to do, I use the same line. It doesn’t have to be either/or. It has to be whichever one you can visualize that serves humanity the best. You do that first, then do your second, third, fourth, fifth thing in order of how they contribute to the world.”

And that’s why Lex stuffs his life full to the brim. Last year, he even released a hip-hop single, Bafun’ uwazi, under the stage name LexLeo.

Lex is the epitome of the new professional – a skilled person doing meaningful work in a range of disciplines. And in this fast-changing world of ours – where a celebrity dentist can also be a rapper and a fashion designer and a philanthropist, too – what’s next for Lex?

It will come as no surprise that the next project is one that has Lex thinking big. “I want to go into industrial design, which deals with everything from the shape of these headphones we’re using to this bottle in front of me to a car to a cellphone to a toothbrush to a new type of water treatment or solar panels – all of these things. I want my brain to go there professionally, because then I can help a million at once. Not one or two or three people a day.”

Lex is part of a new wave in the world of work globally: the blurring of boundaries between the physical, virtual and biological worlds as previously unconnected industries and fields merge together, thanks to technology. Think 3D printers creating heart valves, voice-controlled smart homes and self-driving cars. It’s a world in which we can and must be many things, not just one.

Thanks to our new world, this guy IS for real… and there’s no way machines are ever going to replace him.