The inevitable has arrived. We’re now at what is called “the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, a phase where a confluence of technology is making a remarkable and bold impact on how society operates. It dictates how people live and work, and changes lifestyles, economies, as well as industries. The question is: should people do something to prevent the machines from truly ‘taking over’?
Johan Aurik, Managing Partner and Chairman of the Board at A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm that focuses on strategic and operational CEO-agenda issues facing businesses, governments and institutions around the globe, discussed how the current “tsunami of technological change” is re-shaping everyday life and painting a very different picture for the future.
“Disruptive technologies are dictating a new future for humankind. Almost every day we hear of new advances that blur the lines between the realms of the physical, the digital and the biological”
In a We Forum article, Aurik cited artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, 3D printing, nanotechnology, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality and advanced biology as among the technological developments to watch out for in the fourth industrial revolution.
“Although at different stages of development and adoption, as these technologies bed in, becoming more widespread and convergent, we will see a radical shift in the way that individuals, companies and societies produce, distribute, consume and re-use goods and services,” Aurik said, stressing: “Disruptive technologies are dictating a new future for humankind. Almost every day we hear of new advances that blur the lines between the realms of the physical, the digital and the biological.”
The article mentioned robotic surgery, automation of industries, and even growing human bone extracted from a patient’s own stem cells with the use of 3D imaging. Additionally, it noted how 3D printing is altering the way raw materials are used and recycled – even repurposed in order to minimize waste.
Aurik also wasn’t afraid to address the elephant in the room: the fear that industrial revolution will make humans obsolete in the workforce. There are two factions in this issue, one side that believes humans should work with machines and not against them; and another that aims to challenge the mighty machines by merging with them.
Billionaire and tech proponent Elon Musk belongs to the latter, and his bold concept of becoming “one with the machines” is reportedly coming to fruition soon. Musk was said to have formed a company called Neuralink which endeavors to merge the human brain with a robot or artificial intelligence.
Aurik, however, is optimistic that automation and human workers will co-exist.
“It’s impossible at this point to predict what the overall impact on employment will be. Disruption will happen; of that we can be certain. But before we swallow all of the bad news, we should take a look at history. Because this tells us that it is more often the nature of work – rather than the opportunity to take part in work – that will be impacted,” he said.
It is undeniable that there will be visible disruptions brought about by the fourth wave of the industrial revolution, but humans have survived and moved on from the first three. Aurik believes that workers should be re-educated and re-skilled to take advantage of new opportunities and fields opened by these new technologies. He likewise stressed on the role of the government and the business sector in ensuring that the technological advancements become an economic advantage which benefits everyone.
The time has indeed come for the machines to take their rightful place in society. There are countless more bold ideas which can become real and tangible in the next few years. It may do us good to welcome these advancements with optimism rather than fear.