Have you heard about the Fourth Industrial Revolution? The World Economic Forum coined this term in regards to the “fast approaching era where the lines between physical, digital and biological spheres will be blurred.” This will be an age of robotization. So, how did we get here and what were the first three revolutions?
The First Industrial Revolution resulted in mechanization, where human labour could, for the first time, be substituted by mechanical labour. The use of water and steam power brought about this period of innovation in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Second Industrial Revolution was an era of mass production. The late 19th and early 20th century saw an increase in coordination between labour and machines, resulting in assembly lines enabling mass manufacturing.
The late 20th century gave birth to the age of automation – the Third Industrial Revolution. Machines capable of repeating a series of tasks under specified parameters with minimal supervision transformed the manufacturing process world once more.
Going back to the present, 2017, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is evolving every day. Basically, this will be an era of robotization, of factories as smart as your smart phone. Machines will be amplified with web connectivity, allowing them to view the entire production chain and make independent decisions.
As you can imagine, the expectation is that this revolution will change most of our jobs in the near future. Professor Klaus Schwab, who is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum acknowledges this time of robotization as fundamentally different from the previous three developmental periods in his book titled, The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Revolution one, two and three were all characterised by advances in technology. This time, we are taking it a few steps further and combining the physical, digital and biological worlds to create a new breed of machine that will challenge our very ideas of what it is to be human. Sounds like every sci-fi movie you ever watched is about to become a little more realistic, right?
While these emerging technologies have powerful potential for good, there are also grave possible risks. The prospect of connecting billions more people to the web, improving efficiency of business, and the potential ability to regenerate our natural environment and undo some of the damage caused by previous industrial revolutions, among other things, is very exciting. However, the failure of governments to properly regulate technologies, unfavourable power shifts, security and inequality concerns are all issues that society will face moving forward, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to roll out.
For example, as robotization occurs, computers and machines will replace traditional human workers in various forms of employment from the factory to the insurance broker and real estate agent. While this is already happening to some degree in certain vocations, it will only continue and become more frequent.
The idea of blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres is challenging and uncomfortable to some, and moral dilemmas abound, however, one thing is for certain, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here and it’s happening. Only time will tell how our jobs and lives will be impacted and changed.
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