Will this new Fourth Industrial Revolution be a Revolution for ‘Good’?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution. You may have heard the term bantered around. But what is it and why should you care?
We have lived for some time in an incremental pace of change – across the First, Second and Third Industrial Revolutions. We have now stepped into the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution but this time things are different: this time the pace of change is exponential.
Technology is advancing at an ever-faster rate and it is having an impact on every industry and every sector. No sector is immune, and even what it means to be human is shifting. This exponential pace of change is changing our lives. The changes are deceptive in their strength and capacity to completely rewrite the way we work, live and connect and they will continue to do so in ways we can’t yet imagine.
But how will this Fourth Industrial Revolution impact you? Your community? Society and humanity overall? There is so much that has yet to be written but don’t you wonder...will THIS be the revolution where we make the world a better place, not just for some but for all? Where we can finally speak about poverty, homelessness and starvation in the past tense?
How is the Fourth Industrial Revolution different than the first three?
Let’s quickly recap each of the industrial revolutions before we get too far into this discussion. What is interesting to note is that each industrial revolution marked a major turning point in history. Almost every aspect of daily life was influenced in some way by these changes, but the changes were incremental. Significant, yes...but incremental.
Around 1780 the First Industrial Revolution occurred. The transition from manual production methods to machines and steam power led to incredible growth and urbanization. Average incomes and population experienced unprecedented and sustained growth.
Around 1870 the Second Industrial Revolution commenced and was marked by a period where mass production, steel, electricity and cars led to significant economic growth in industrialized countries. There were massive shifts in communication and transportation. Crop failure no longer meant starvation if you were connected to transport and larger markets.
The Third Industrial Revolution commenced around 1970. This industrial revolution is also known as the Digital Revolution because we transitioned from mechanical and analog technology to digital computing and communication technology.
Now we’ve entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution - the cyber physical revolution. This is difficult for some people to fathom since many of us have only lived in the Third Industrial Revolution. The first two were eras we learned about in textbooks and elementary school.
It’s also hard to grapple with the fact that we are in a new era because no one officially proclaimed the start of this new one! There was no worldwide party on a set date, no 10-second countdown clock in Times Square, no ball gown and champagne to ring in the new era...but that doesn’t matter because ‘it’ is here.
We are presently in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum describes why today’s transformations represent the arrival of a fourth and distinct industrial revolution due to the speed and scope of the technology innovations.
The first three Industrial Revolutions evolved at an incremental pace. Now, however, technology mega-shifts such as intelligization, cognification, virtual and augmented reality, and quantum computing are advancing exponentially. Each new tech advancement when combined with others is continuing this ever-faster pace.
What’s the difference between incremental and exponential?
Let’s get on the same page with terms. Exponential growth is not just “bigger”. Not everything bigger is exponentially so.
To see the difference between incremental growth and exponential growth, first think about incremental. This is growth by one unit at a time. Imagine taking five steps from where you are right now – where would you land? Likely still in the same room you are in now.
Exponential growth, however, is a doubling of each successive unit of growth. Imagine taking one step, then two more, then four steps, then eight, and finally sixteen steps. Where would you land if you took 31 steps (1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16)? Probably out of the room you started in.
Keep this difference in mind.
What Does an Exponential Pace of Change Mean for Humanity?
It's exciting to think about how each Industrial Revolution has advanced civilization. Each one brought with it life-saving breakthroughs and, for many, higher incomes, leading to significant reductions in the amount of people living with absolute poverty and disease.
It may appear that we have it in our power to ensure this industrial revolution will be one that will bring a future of good for all – and we do – but we must keep in mind that while there are great opportunities there are also great risks that this era will entrench our current gender and racial biases, driving income inequality and polarization to dangerous places.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution brings with it the promise of major advancements, many we can only begin to imagine. Futurists talk about prolonged longevity, the eradication of famine and poverty, and an end to debilitating diseases such as cancer.
But we can’t get too excited about technology in and of itself. We must realize that we can't just sprinkle technology dust over our biases and expect things to change for the better.
We must realize that we can’t just sprinkle technology dust over our biases and expect things to change for the better.
In fact, technology can perpetuate and intensify biases. This could occur by allowing opaque biased algorithms, permitting corporations to manipulate our thoughts, and limiting democratic principles that allow for free, factual and non-hate inspired speech.
We have seen this in some forms of predictive policing, where in one situation previous arrest data is used to predict where future crimes will happen, perpetuating racial and class biases and leading police to wrong conclusions. Similarly, we’ve seen gender-biased hiring software, and don’t forget the impact of Cambridge Analytica’s entanglement with Facebook.
As we continue to innovate at an exponential pace, we need to intervene now to ensure that the common good is placed at the centre of technology and at the centre of progress. The future is now, the pace is fast – and getting faster – and we all need to be involved in shaping this new era in order to create a future of good.
The common good must outweigh individual interests. We need to realize that this value does not quash capitalism; in fact, it may very well accentuate it. Isn’t one of the problems of our current form of capitalism that there are too few entrepreneurs?
How many people currently living in absolute poverty are unable to access education, employment or the dream of being an entrepreneur? What if they could? Wouldn’t this scenario only serve to amplify capitalism? I believe it would. I don’t think there is a risk that by ensuring a future of good for people, this somehow means that capitalism will be replaced with something that restricts entrepreneurialism, profits or wealth.
I mention this because there is a mindset, however prevalent, that poverty, homelessness and starvation will always exist and that the only way to address these challenges is by re-distributing wealth and that this will then threaten capitalism. This seems illogical to me. Humans are growth-oriented – we want to feel increasingly physically and emotionally comfortable and confident. We love to shop. We are massive consumers. We will literally shop until we drop and well beyond the point where our money runs out.
I’m not endorsing this behaviour. I’m simply highlighting it to make the point that the more people there are with the ability to generate a decent income, the greater capitalism will grow. Existing entrepreneurs need not feel threatened by putting poverty, homelessness, and starvation in the past tense.
The Future is Now
We are now living in a time where human potential is unlimited and the impossible is now possible. We finally have the opportunity to shape this new era as one where the future will be good for all and not just for some.
Each of us is part of building our society. It’s not up to “them”. There is no “them” – it’s up to us and our actions, individually and collectively.
And just as in the previous Industrial Revolutions when new civilizations were created, we are at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution creating a new civilization and a new future for us all.
We don’t know how this current Industrial Revolution will end but we can learn from the end of the Second and Third Revolutions and realize that the principles we use to shape the early stages of the Fourth Revolution will influence our society for a very long time.
So, let’s agree on one fundamental value: that we can make the future exponentially better for all and not just for some and it’s in all of our best interests to make that happen.
I want to leave you with this question to ponder:
What will it take for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to bring about a future of good for all and not just for some?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below, reply to this same question I posed on Twitter https://twitter.com/bettyferreira, or leave a comment on my blog at https://www.goodcasting.com/blog.