Fourth Industrial Revolution

Fourth Industrial Revolution…It’s not about technology – It’s about you

Image: Robot and Human arm wrestling, May 07, 2017. ExtremeTech /Aaron Krumins

 

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.”

 –Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum

The first industrial revolution was about – steam power to mechanize production, the second was about electric energy powered assembly lines for mass production and the third industrial revolution (which has been since middle of 20th century) was about electronics and IT to automate production. The fourth industrial revolution is an extension of third one where we find there is a convergence of physical – digital and biological aspects happening at an exponential pace – making it worth calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The magnitude of this impact is not yet certain but one thing is for sure that it’s not one that humans have experienced any time before.

Why this is so relevant? Historically, the revolutions have allowed us to blow past our previous limitations and taking us to new territory. The scale and pace of this revolution is very high, while in the earlier industrial revolutions where we automated muscle power – today we are automating brain power.

David Cearley, vice president and Gartner Fellow announced the three themes – intelligent, digital, and mesh for 2017 which have a substantial disruptive potential across industries.

The disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IOT), Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR), Mobile Internet, Robotics, 3D printing are already on its path of exponential growth. Some of the spectacular demonstrations being the self-driving car, WAYMO by Google, personal assistant, Siri by Apple, IBM Watson for Genomics to provide precision medicine for cancer patient, Baxter by Think Robotics is a smart collaborative robot, drones for surveillance, the first ever 3D printed building in Dubai or the most popular Augmented Reality game PokemonGo to name a few.

“While it’s a best time to be a consumer, it’s possibly the worst time to be a labor.” 

-ERIK BRYNJOLFSSON – Co-author of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

While the technological advancements bring in prosperity, it brings along the fear of stagnated incomes or even job displacement. Historically, like all other industrial revolutions, the new technology would create many new jobs and at the same time destroy many old ones.

A report by the consultancy firm PwC, by early 2030s, around 30% of existing UK jobs could be at potential risk of automation (while in US (38%), Germany (35%) and Japan (21%)), with the most exposed sectors including retail and wholesale, transport and storage, and manufacturing. According to McKinsey, about 60% of occupations would have 30% or more of their activities automated – which would necessitate re-defining of jobs and business process transformation.

It’s a myth that only the low-skill / low wage or the routine or mundane jobs in factory would get displaced, even the activities performed by highest paid professionals like CEOs and Physicians would be automated.

Focus of education system in the age of 4IR

According to NASSCOM, each year over 3 million graduates and post-graduates are added to the Indian workforce. However, of these only 25 per cent of technical graduates and 10-15 per cent of other graduates are considered employable by the rapidly growing IT and ITES segments. In order to address this problem, the industry – academia focus should not be on creating ‘job ready’ but on creating ‘future ready’ graduates instead, while the government’s contribution should be on bailing out universities than just the banks.

STEM (Science – Technology – Engineering – Maths) is essential but no longer sufficient and students should significantly invest in HOTS (higher order thinking skills) necessary for long term value creation. It is imperative to not to compete with the machines but instead master the skills where we can complement the machines. Our greatest advantage, as Colvin demonstrates in his book , will arise from our deepest most essentially human abilities – empathy, creativity, social sensitivity, building relationships, and expressing ourselves with greater power than machines can ever achieve. While this is true for Generation Z who are preparing themselves for the unpredictable job market, it is equally true for the Generation Y who are currently employed, as the existing jobs would disappear much before you can afford to retire. (More on this in the upcoming blog – Shaping the Future of education in the age of 4IR)

Shaping the Future – “It’s all up to us”

The benefits of technological innovations are already out, but it’s just not evenly distributed and the digital divide (an economic and social inequality with regards to use or access or impact of 4IR) continues to exist. All the stakeholders – the governments, the businesses, the people themselves should therefore assume leadership and actively participate in shaping the future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which has a one of greater potential peril of ‘robotizing’ human beings on one side and on the other side – a promise to lift humanity to a level of shared prosperity. It’s all up to us to ensure that the larger good prevails.