Welcome to those who are curious about AI. From Short and Sweet AI, I’m Dr. Peper.
Right here, right now, technology breakthroughs are disrupting every industry and massively transforming every industry, exponentially faster than ever before in history. What do you call exponentially fast disruption and massive transformation in world-wide industries? It’s called the 4th industrial revolution.
The 4th industrial revolution is also known as 4 IR or Industry 4.0. But what does it mean? Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, coined the term and wrote a book of the same title. He details how we are now living during a 4th industrial revolution characterized by the fusion of AI, robotics, 3D printing, IOT, quantum computing, blockchain, autonomous vehicles, 5G, synthetic biology, virtual reality, and countless other technologies. He describes this as a “technological revolution… that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres”.
Technology merges with humans as our smart watches monitor our hear rate, our temperature or how much we move. It embeds in our daily lives as facial recognition, voice activated assistants, or apps on our phone. This isn’t the future, this is happening now. It’s changing how we live and changing who we are.
The three previous industrial revolutions also had new technology which fundamentally changed society. And yet, they were different. Let’s go back and look.
The First Industrial Revolution occured in 1760 with the invention of the steam engine and led to factory manufacturing. Hand-made goods were replaced by mass produced products. And the agricultural society was replaced by a huge migration to the cities. The Second Industrial Revolution came in the late 1800s with inventions such as the internal combustion engine, the lightbulb, the telephone and major infrastructure such as railroads as well as the steel, oil and electricity industries. The Third Industrial Revolution began in the 1960s with the invention of the semiconductor, personal computers and ultimately, the internet.
Schwab rejects the idea these present-day developments are part of the third industrial revolution. Four IR is evolving superfast, at an exponential, not linear pace, like the previous IRs. For example, it took 75 years for 100 million people to have a traditional telephone, but it only took 2 years for 100 million people to sign up for Instagram and less than a month for 100 million people to use Pokémon Go. The 4th industrial revolution involves many, many different technologies. Those technologies are combining and merging together and can transform entire systems, across companies and industries, and across cultures and countries.
What are the pro and cons of this new Industry 4.0? Advocates point out the increased productivity from technology and the improved quality of daily life where we can have almost anything we want on demand. There will be massive new markets created as more people come online. And more entrepreneurship exploding worldwide as barriers to new businesses are lowered.
But many thoughtful people are concerned about the cybersecurity risks as everything becomes so connected through the IOT. And disruption of core industries has already begun with Airbnb challenging hotels, Uber and Lyft dissolving the taxi industry, and Amazon threating any business that sells, well, anything. There are ethical concerns about access to data on individuals or groups being wide-spread and used for personal gain and manipulation.
But perhaps the greatest threat of the 4th industrial revolution is the specter of massive inequality. Experts fear there will be a divide of high-skill/high-pay workers and low-skill/low-pay workers in a winner-take-all economy, as the middle-class dissolves. Even Schwab predicts that inequality will be the greatest concern affecting society in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Typically, early adopters of new technology gain the greatest financial benefits, allowing them to jump ahead, while the income gap widens. Sounds pretty dire and yet, no one knows. The French philosopher Voltaire said, “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” This revolution is creating change at warp speed. And even those with knowledge and preparation may not be able to keep up with the ripple effects from the changes.