Thursday, January 30th, 2020

The Looming Challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Jonathan Blum

So far, in the course of human history, we have already experienced three industrial revolutions. The first was triggered by the invention of the steam engine and the subsequent rise of railroads. The second was a direct consequence of the first and was sparked by the discovery of electricity and the advent of factories. The latest was brought on by the rise of telecommunications, which has transformed us into an “information society.”

Each industrial revolution was born from specific inventions and discoveries. “Industrial revolutions are major technological, social, political, and economic transformations that significantly boost industrial production and human integration.” (Roberto Rave) By this definition, we are currently in the midst of our fourth industrial revolution—the artificial intelligence and robotics revolution.

Since the 60s, we have experienced unprecedented development in the fields of information technology, mechatronics, and robotics in the search for a better quality of life by creating and combining physical, digital, and biological technologies. This is now being labeled the 4IR or the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Artificial intelligence, automation, virtual reality, and robotics are already a reality and continue advancing at an astonishing pace. Their development is enabling new technologies to interconnect the physical, digital, and biological worlds. An example is the Block Chain system designed to help reduce corruption, or the Internet of things (IoT), which enables companies to improve their services. The health sector is also right up there. With the 4IR, advances in medicine and medical procedures have catapulted thanks to nanotechnology, biomedicine, and robotics. These technologies are taking over most disciplines and impacting the way we, as humans, interact in the economy and industry.

What can we expect in the face of all these changes? As has happened in previous revolutions, society and the economy will transform. It’s true that many jobs will be lost to machines. However, according to a study by The Society of Business Economists, these machines will also create many new jobs. The challenge is to integrate new ICT tools like big data, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, virtual and augmented reality, and cybersecurity into new processes such as additive manufacturing (3D printing), advanced automation, autonomous robots, and cobots into daily business life. Companies should make a commitment, evaluate their digital maturity and invest in adapting to cyber-industry.

On the upside, new technologies are tools that can foster equal opportunity by enabling easy, low-cost, and efficient access to multiple services. This is one reason why governments should invest in national development to facilitate a successful technological transition. Otherwise, they run the risk of these technologies becoming inaccessible to local producers and low socioeconomic groups.

The 4IR is here. It’s happening. We only have two options—innovate and evolve by incorporating the latest technological advances and adapting to this new situation, or risk long-term economic, food security, and social repercussions on both corporate and national levels.