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The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What will it mean?

Think about the industrial revolution and you’ll probably conjure up images of factories belching out smoke in the 18th and 19th centuries. Yet, according to many observers, this was just the first time in which the way we produced goods changed drastically.

The advent of mass production and assembly lines – beginning at the turn of the century – was the second industrial revolution, while the third is often seen as the development of computers and greater automation from the 1960s onwards.

Next in the list, it seems, is the fourth industrial revolution. This, as before, is set to be a wave of change that drastically alters the way we live and work.

What will the fourth industrial revolution entail?

This next revolution involves technology but is not merely a continuation of the advances made through the rise of computers.

As the World Economic Forum points out: “The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited.

“And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.”

We’ve probably all seen the pictures of the early trial runs for driverless cars and in almost all of those fields above, new products are on the horizon that will alter the face of their respective industries. Nanotechnology, for example, lies at the heart of the innovation that could end the digital printing vs offset printing debate and usher in a new age of printing.

This concept of taking the technologies of the last few years – AI, cloud computing, the Internet of Things – and actually putting them to use in the mainstream business world. It’s also about knitting together physical, digital and biological worlds.

Is the fourth industrial revolution going to be good or bad?

As with every big change, there are likely to be winners and losers. The biggest downside could be when it comes to jobs. One estimate in America reckons as many as 47 per cent of existing jobs could be replaced by new technology.

Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has published a book on the topic in which he warns that governments across the globe need to act quickly to regulate the new order. He also raises fears that inequality – already an issue in many countries – could grow as a result.

That doesn’t mean it’ll all be bad – but does highlight the need to take change seriously. In fact, Schwab sees that we are at a crossroads.

He said: “The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril. My concern, however, is that decision makers are too often caught in traditional, linear (and non-disruptive) thinking or too absorbed by immediate concerns to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.”

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