• Giacomo Breda

Some thoughts on the fourth industrial revolution

In the past when I talked to colleagues about the fourth industrial revolution, I saw a certain wonder in their eyes as if they were telling me Fourths of what? And the previous three where are they?

It is right to summarize the events.

The first industrial revolution took place between the end of the 1700s and the mid-1800s, marking the transition from the manual production of goods to machines. Started in Great Britain and then adopted in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, it has been made possible by exploiting water and steam power and the development of machine tools and factories, leading to unprecedented changes.

The second industrial revolution began in the late 1800s largely as a result of the invention of electricity and ushered in an era of mass production and assembly lines. The widespread adoption of technology such as telegraph, railways, gas and water supplies has not only allowed the movement of people and information as never before, but has also led to the production of different and complex assets such as automobiles. Both revolutions have had a great socio-economic and cultural impact, some good, some bad. The needs of how food and clothes have become more available. Trade has increased. Populations have increased when people have moved from rural areas to cities. At the same time, much more pollution has led to serious consequences for health and unsafe working conditions have caused worker unrest.

The introduction of computers and other digital electronic devices kicked off the third revolution in the 1950s (are we still in it?). Among the key changes was automation. Repetitive and low skill activities, once performed by people, particularly on assembly lines, were delivered to machines, which have become ubiquitous in automotive systems and have made groups of people obsolete. From the point of view of consumers and mass culture, this recurrence was often identified with the profound changes resulting from the introduction of television and personal computers.

Fourth industrial revolution focuses on artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet-things and other emerging technologies that fuse the physical, digital and biological world. How rich of impacts compared to previous revolutions is open to speculation. But we have already seen a world in which there are auto-guided cars and personalized medicine. In Japan, for example, it is not outrageous if humans work alongside robots. While some of these technological advances may be rejected, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future. Autonomous vehicles could make our roads safer by reducing congestion and pollution. More robots mean fewer humans doing boring, dangerous and dirty jobs. Like previous industrial revolutions, these changes will result in social economic and cultural changes very profound especially in the most backward or less inclined countries to adapt to the change of the fourth generation industrial revolution. Some argue that the pace of these moves will increase compared to previous revolutions. Others worry that the less fortunate will be left behind and are making plans, such as an universal basic income to improve the negative consequences.

Who will lead the fourth industrial revolution?

I do not know, but I am sure that it will be the country or a series of countries that will have strong investments and will embrace technology from robots, virtual reality, 3-D printing and other advanced technologies. Being among the first depends on the desire to embrace the fourth industrial revolution, a new era that is starting and which is destined to be just as fundamental as the previous three.

Some forecasts?

My opinion is that leading nations of the present, will not be the same in the future. Today some countries in certain sectors is at such advanced level that it will be impossible to overcome them. However, there are significant opportunities in emerging sectors such as autonomous systems, defense technologies and energy exploitation and storage. Members of the current and emerging workforce will have to adapt to significant changes. As in previous industrial revolutions, old jobs will be lost and new jobs will emerge. And those who are unemployed but available, up-to-date and willing will be able to find new opportunities. But to make this important change a country need culture, advanced studies, professional updating and preparation for sacrifice. However, without significant private and public investments in the education system and in industrial research and development, no country in the world will be able to find this new and already started industrial revolution in line.

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