Categories:> Thought Leadership

The 4th Industrial Revolution

Where they may once have looked like discrete phenomena, the rise of disruptive technologies across disparate economic sectors and societal enclaves – unified by an emphasis on digital innovation, automation and non-linear advances in information sharing and connectivity – has, according to some commentators, reached such a critical mass that it is best understood today as something far more profound: the fourth industrial revolution.

A revolution in disruption

According to authors such as Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), which has seen an evolution from the Digital Revolution’s pioneering of information technology into a proliferation of digital technology not only in non-traditional industries but throughout society writ large, will further evolve into a dissolution of previously fixed boundaries between the physical, the digital and the biological.

Its advocates argue that this industrial revolution will be fundamentally distinct from its predecessors: where they were brought about primarily by advances in specific technologies, this era’s industrial revolution will mean a sea change in communication as such.

Per this viewpoint, the explosion of connectivity is best characterised by smartphones and other mobile devices, but equally evident in the digitisation and automation of manufacturing, the rise of AI and the Internet of Things, which have already had a series of profound impacts on social interaction, employment and in some cases national politics.

 

Quick facts

    • The fourth industrial revolution refers to a theoretical convergence of and step-change in multiple extant and projected trends in digital technology

 

    • It is described as being “characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

 

    • Key factors include a jump forward in automation, from manufacturing to the supply chain and transit; the rise of smart tech and Internet of Things; and unprecedented levels of technological and digital interconnectivity, as characterised by the ubiquity of mobile devices

 

    • Advocates of the term point to the increased rate of technological innovation and the sheer scale of disruptive impact across multiple industries

 

  • Critics suggest that the term overstates the rate of change and question the differentiation between the current wave of technological breakthroughs and the prior third industrial revolution, aka the digital revolution

 

Fact and fantasy

At present, though, it’s not clear that the various disruptions and innovations in digital technology constitute a coherent revolution. This is partially due to the fact that the term is identified based in part on imagined future trends – the widespread uptake of technologies such as gene-editing or 3D printing, for example, or bleeding-edge developments which are yet to be fully realised, such as nanotechnology and quantum computing – which are extrapolated from and synonymised with currently-extant technologies and industries.

Obviously it’s difficult to properly identify any historical moment from inside it, but this is by some counts the sixth time a fourth industrial revolution has been declared (prior candidates include “modern communications” in 1940, atomic energy in 1948, modern electronics in 1955, computing in the 1970s and the information age in 1984), so some scepticism may be warranted.

 

 

That said, there’s no question that a lot of the component pieces of 4IR – the rise of automation, the growth of machine learning and big data, for example – are already in play with major, and multi-faceted impacts. Whether or not they amount to an industrial revolution, the component technologies are here, and as our experience across areas including digital fabrication, cryptography and AI demonstrates, they’re already part of our purview.

It is our firm belief that these and other aspects of the 4IR piece are only going to increase in prominence, and we’re ready to mobilise our expertise to navigate that new landscape. As these technologies start to be applied by our clients, we’ll be sharing findings, thinking and technology solutions across the wider client base.

4IR: whether it’s a futurist pipe dream or a statistical inevitability, the components – AI, massive data connectivity and radical growth in automation and decentralisation – are already in play. With our skillset designed to capitalise on those opportunities, we’re in position to share insight on the crucial trends and developments.

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