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The Fourth Industrial Revolution: An Era of Transformative Technology

a photo of a man holding up a tablet screen set against a blurred background of a robot building mechanical things with the words "Industry 4.0" to show the reality of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and symbolize the innovations of the industrial revolution

Innovation powered by technology has been drastically altering the way we live, work and interact. Changes are happening at dramatic speed. The breadth and depth of such changes signify a profound societal transformation. We have now entered the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In this era, breakthroughs are blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. The scope, scale, and complexity of the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has ever experienced before—even bringing us to the inevitable of asking about the advantages and disadvantages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As Dr. Byron Clayton, CEO of Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing states, it’s about the “connectivity of different types of technology.”

Unlike the innovations of the industrial revolution past, the one we have now is changing more than the way we do things. Its all-encompassing impact is also challenging our ideas about what it means to be human. As such, we need to redesign existing processes and institutions to face it, as well as to leverage the abundance of new opportunities. But first, we need a clear grasp of the transformative force of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Bold Business had the unique opportunity to interview leading experts Dr. Byron Clayton, Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing, Dr. Jean-Pierre, Dean of Engineering University of Miami, and Dr. Paul Sanberg, SVP for Research Innovation and Knowledge Expertise at the University of South Florida during the 2019 Synapse Summit.  In this interview and video they discuss the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


Highlighting the Need for Awareness

Today, the adoption of cyber-physical systems—the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Systems—continues to spread across the globe. It’s happening in all disciplines, industries, and economies. Smart technologies are elevating factories and workplaces.

Connected machines in the Fourth Industrial Revolution are able to interact with people. They can also visualize the whole production process. Furthermore, such machines can make decisions autonomously.

As of now, we are still in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But according to the World Economic Forum, we can expect significant technology tipping points by 2025. One trillion sensors will be linked to the Internet. The first transplant of a 3D printed liver will be possible. Driverless cars will make up 10 percent of all vehicles on U.S. roads. These are just a few of the examples of the advancements that lie ahead.

Innovations of the industrial revolution happening now have parallels in the Industrial Revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Steam technology, electricity, and cars were some of the transformative technologies back then. For the third revolution, computing was the propeller. Those eras taught us that innovations are not just tools. They are also powerful drivers that can shape civilization. Understanding the power that innovations of the industrial revolution have and the possibilities that come along with it is crucial. For the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such understanding will allow society to harness benefits in the best possible ways.

Innovations of the Industrial Revolution —With Great Promise Comes Great Peril

Innovations of the industrial revolution are a powerful force for good. However, they also pose risks. Founder and Executive Chairman Professor Klaus Schwab, of the World Economic Forum, noted how the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a double-edged sword. He said, “The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril.” Looking at both the advantages and disadvantages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is necessary to fully grasp its overall impact.

Undoubtedly, the Fourth Industrial Revolution can make lives better. It can help the world better prepare for natural disasters. By leveraging data, precision medicine has been helping medical professionals create treatments and therapies unique to an individual. In underdeveloped regions, connectivity has the potential to redefine global trade and lift people out of poverty.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution can also help organizations manage assets in ways that can help regenerate the environment. Forecasts even suggest that a massive productivity boom is underway. The productivity jump in the U.S. could amount to approximately $2.8 trillion.

On the other hand, the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings pitfalls along with it. Some companies might fail to adapt. Socioeconomic changes can increase social tensions. Shifting power can lead to critical security concerns. Governments might be unable to implement regulations properly. Jobs will become obsolete.

Moreover, innovations of the industrial revolution can raise problematic ethical situations. For example, geoengineering can alter planetary conditions such as the climate. One country can leverage such technology to make climate changes that are beneficial for itself but detrimental to others.

The Role of Business in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Schwab has also stated that the Fourth Industrial Revolution goes way beyond business as usual. “Going into 2019, it is in businesses’ self-interest and for the greater good that we shape this Fourth Industrial Revolution more actively,” he said. “Left unmanaged, technologies will shape us, and in the age of AI and malicious lone wolves, the risk of harm is greater than ever.” Clearly, the business sector has a great responsibility to help shape the future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

To help business leaders navigate the advantages and disadvantages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab proposed four points of action. First, companies must proactively collaborate on new rules. Faster development, adaptation and innovation sum up the second point. Schwab’s third suggestion involves better planning against risks. Lastly, businesses must treat governments, civil society groups, and workers as partners instead of adversaries.

Several notable companies are supporting the World Economic Forum as business partners of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Such companies help design and pilot innovative new approaches to policy and governance in this new era. The roster includes Reliance Industries, Salesforce, Accenture, Deloitte, Microsoft, and Netflix, among many others.

Shaping a Positive Trajectory through Urgent Action

According to Dr. Paul Sanberg, Senior Vice President for Research Innovation and Knowledge Enterprise at the University of South Florida, the quest for innovation in this industrial era is driving business migration. But we’re only in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s not too late to shape the revolution in ways that will make it far greater than its predecessors. Global discussions on adopting and harnessing future technologies in conscientious ways are a must. According to Schwab, leaders and citizens must “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Moreover, there’s no time to lose. The forces of change naturally develop their own momentum and rules at an unprecedented speed. If we don’t catch up by concretizing processes, regulations, and policies, we will lose the ability to shape a positive trajectory and outcome. As Robert J. Shiller, professor of economics at Yale University and recipient of The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2013, puts it, “We cannot wait until there are massive dislocations in our society to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

In our series on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Bold Business will be covering how companies are adopting and leveraging the transformative technologies of the era.


For more on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, check out this story on 3D printing and its effect on manufacturing.

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