The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What It Is and How to Prepare
In school, you studied the Industrial Revolution. But did you research the Second or Third ones? Are you aware that we are currently going through the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Since the first Industrial Revolution, humanity has strived to improve through new technologies. Now is no different.
However, today’s technologies radically affect every facet of our lives – in good and not-so-good ways.
During the 2021 South by Southwest tech conference in Austin, Texas, billionaire Elon Musk told the crowd, “Mark my words, AI (artificial intelligence) is far more dangerous than nukes. […] I am really quite close to the cutting edge in AI, and it scares the hell out of me. […] It’s capable of vastly more than almost anyone knows, and the rate of improvement is exponential.”
According to BuiltIn, Stephen Hawking said something very similar a year prior. In his words, “Unless we learn how to prepare for and avoid the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization.”
As long as human beings live and breathe, we will continuously improve life. That’s not a bad thing – as long as we prepare for the risks these changes will bring.
Defining the Fourth Industrial Revolution
The term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” was coined by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, in 2015.
Britannica explains, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution heralds a series of social, political, cultural, and economic upheavals that will unfold over the 21st century. […] The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s technologies, such as artificial intelligence, genome editing, augmented reality, robotics, and 3-D printing, rapidly change the way humans create, exchange, and distribute value. As occurred in the previous revolutions, this will profoundly transform institutions, industries, and individuals.”
Essentially, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a conglomeration of all the internet-based tools we use in everyday life and the workforce. It is everything from automating data systems to using Siri on a smartwatch to 3D printing organs to using digital currency to playing virtual reality games in your living room.
The History of the Industrial Revolution
The First Industrial Revolution lasted from roughly 1760 – to 1830. It began with the introduction of mechanization for production. It also introduced steam and water power.
The Second Industrial Revolution lasted from 1870 – to 1914 and introduced new sources of energy: electricity, gas, and oil. It also brought about mass production. Additionally, this revolution brought about automobiles, planes, and communication tools such as the telephone.
The Third Industrial Revolution – also referred to as the Digital Revolution – started around the mid-1900s with the emergence of computers and digital technology and the creation of the internet. The use of electronics and information technology led to automated production.
That brings us to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, built on technologies from the Third Revolution.
Driving Forces of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
The Fourth Industrial Revolution builds upon the automated production of the Third Industrial Revolution and the Digital Age.
In his book The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab writes, “It began at the turn of this century and built on the digital revolution. It is characterized by a much more ubiquitous and mobile Internet, by smaller and more powerful sensors that have become cheaper, and by artificial intelligence and machine learning.”
An innovation (or innovations) has powered every industrial revolution. In the First Industrial Revolution, it was steam power. Today, it is the Internet of Things (IoT).
Trailhead explains, “In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we’ve got new innovations pushing us forward, in the form of the cloud, social, mobile, IoT, and AI. Pair those with higher computing power and big data, and here comes the next industrial revolution.”
The Good That Can Come from the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Like the previous industrial revolutions, many good will come from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The World Economic Forum suggests, “Like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world; technology has made possible new products and services that increase the efficiency and pleasure of our personal lives. Ordering a cab, booking a flight, buying a product, making a payment, listening to music, watching a film, or playing a game—any of these can now be done remotely.”
Here are a few more examples of the good that will come.
More efficient and productive: As technology advances, many processes can be completed significantly less time. This means people and industries are more efficient and effective.
More free time: As new technology makes specific tasks more efficient, it frees up the time humans would have spent working on jobs like automating payroll.
Better assessments: With advanced technology, scientists and doctors perform less intrusive and more effective checks. In addition to new AI and robotics, data mining to find comparative results will make it easier and faster to get results for patients.
Convenience: One of the ways society will recognize the positive effects of this revolution is through convenience. The ability to turn your lights on and off while you are away from home and have television shows recommended to you based on your previous viewing experience are examples of modern-day convenience.
Warning: The Not-So-Good That Can Come with the Fourth Industrial Revolution
While there is plenty of good to be expected in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is wise to consider the potential for the not-so-good.
There has always been pushback against new ideas, specifically those threatening people’s livelihoods.
For example, during the First Industrial Revolution, according to The History Channel, “The ‘Luddites’ emerged as a violent force against changes in the textile industry. Raids on textile workshops became a nearly nightly occurrence in Nottingham since a labour uprising by highly skilled textile artisans began in November 1811.”
The textile artisans were hurt and angered that their livelihoods were threatened by machinery. As a result, they rioted.
History tends to repeat itself, so we should not be surprised if similar social unrest occurred during the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The most acknowledged negative effect of this revolution is the potential for mass job loss due to human beings being replaced by automation and AI.
According to the World Economic Forum, “By 2025, automation and a new division of labour between humans and machines will disrupt 85 million jobs globally in medium and large businesses across 15 industries and 26 economies. Roles in areas such as data entry, accounting and administrative support are decreasing in demand as automation and digitization in the workplace increases.” Disrupt can be interpreted as job loss.
As a result, many experts believe the Fourth Industrial Revolution will widen the gap and result in even more inequality between the rich and poor.
This increasing inequality could result in social unrest, similar to the Luddites of the First Industrial Revolution.
In addition to personal security fears due to social unrest, people will also have security fears due to cyber hacking and confidential data being shared without their consent.
According to Research.com, “Schwab predicts that issues involving loss of control over personal data will only intensify as the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues.”
How to Prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is therefore not a prediction of the future but a call to action,” according to Britannica.
This is your call to action to prepare for significant changes.
Be Aware, Stay Alert. The best way to prepare is to stay aware. Take notice of how the Internet of Things is changing things around you. How much are you using IoT? What data are you providing to AI?
Prepare to Be a Lifelong Learner. Multiple experts believe that the best way to ensure you keep a job in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is to prove you are a willing lifelong learner. Technology changes quickly, and you must be willing and able to learn and adapt.
Learn new skills to do a different job if your job becomes obsolete. The trades are difficult for AI to replicate – plumbers, electricians, snowplow drivers, construction workers, first responders, and the list goes on and on.
Build upon the skills you already have and learn new skills relating to your strengths. Are you applying those strengths to your community and those immediately around you?
Make Yourself Invaluable. If you don’t want to lose your job to a machine, you have to show your employer why you are more valuable than a machine. What can you do that a machine can’t do? Are you creative or a critical thinker? Can you take data and break it down into a way people (not computers) can understand?
Use Safe Cyber Practices. Make safe choices when using the internet. See How to Protect Your Digital Privacy – Including Your Address.
Recognize this as a call to action, friends. Change is happening faster than ever. Stay alert and prepared.