The Fourth Industrial Revolution is creating a new global system

When a political or social revolution takes place, everyone living within its sphere feels it because it affects everyone within that country or society. However, when it comes to an industrial revolution, very few realize what’s happening, simply because of the pace of change and how it affects consumers.

Some of the major differences between a political revolution and an industrial one are that the one is violent while the other is peaceful; one is fast and abrupt, while the other takes long time to mature.

A political revolution is noisy and chaotic, while an industrial revolution is very quiet – so quiet, in fact, that most people do not realize that a major change is taking place.

The other major difference is that a political revolution affects the people of a country, or surrounding societies – but an industrial revolution is a global affair and it impacts mankind at large, although it does affect different societies at different times.

Looking back at the history of industrial revolutions, it is easy to see the changes in the economies and societies that witnessed such transformations one after the other. However, each of these took quite a long time to mature. And, needless to say, some of those affected by the revolution might not have even been aware of the changes, so quietly did they happen.

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production.

The First Industrial Revolution reduced human reliance on animals, relied more on human effort and biomass as primary sources of energy to enable the use of fossil fuels and the mechanical power they enabled. The Second Industrial Revolution occurred between the end of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, and brought major breakthroughs in the form of electricity distribution, wireless and wired communication, the synthesis of ammonia and new forms of power generation.

The Third Industrial Revolution began in the 1950s with the development of computing systems, communication and rapid advances in computing power, which enabled new ways of generating, processing and sharing information.

Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third; a digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century.

The question is: What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution and in which shape is it coming?

It could be described in many ways: digitization, cyber technology, software applications, etc. Simply put, it will cut across systems and processes to offer a great consumer experience by simplifying processes and make things easier.

At the core of the revolution lies the consumer. Everything is developing to make things easier for the consumer so that she/he can do everything through Smartphones – without signing any documents or calling anyone.

As Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, puts it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is “a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another”.

“In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” Prof Schwab adds in the book. “We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.”

So, when did the Fourth Industrial Revolution really start? Did it start with the advent of the Internet or in 2007 when Apple rolled out the first real Smartphone – the iPhone?

Experts might differ on the exact timing of the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, but one thing is clear – it is now here and many of us are a witness to it.

It might not have reached the remotest part of the world – where basic human needs such as electrification, sanitation and clean water are a rarity, but for the rest of us, it has already started and most people in the developed world are benefiting from the changes – although many of them might not realize that the changes are happening.

Nicholas Davis, Head of Society and Innovation, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum, says: “Technologies are emerging and affecting our lives in ways that indicate we are at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, a new era that builds and extends the impact of digitization in new and unanticipated ways. It is therefore worthwhile taking some time to consider exactly what kind of shifts we are experiencing and how we might, collectively and individually, ensure that it creates benefits for the many, rather than the few.”

The key difference between the previous industrial revolutions and the current one is that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be driven by digital technology and be felt by user experience, mostly through Smartphones.

So, simple things like hailing a cab, booking an air ticket or a hotel room, paying government taxes, fees and all sorts of financial transactions will be done through applications and Smartphones – completely paperless.

Consumers will see that most of their personal and professional activities are now centered in their Smartphones and on their social media applications and platforms, such as Facebook, the consumer’s window to the world for communicating with everyone else. Instead of face-to-face meetings, there will be more virtual meetings. Instead of phone calls, people will Skype or imo each other. Telecom is likely to become virtually free in the new world order.

The other difference will be in the pace of how things develop. Globally, millions of young men and women are working day and night to develop new application software – or ‘apps’ – to make consumers’ lives better with new user experiences. Thanks to such advances, messaging each other is nearly free today – as long as one has access to WiFi.

Every few days, a new app bursts onto the market, cutting away more and more processes and simplifying things for the end-user. The good thing about these developments is that they target the end-user – the consumer – and the main objective is to enable a better user experience. That way, the process is more democratic and makes consumers’ lives better.

“The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance,” Prof Schwab says. “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.”

Martin Nowak, a professor of mathematics and biology at Harvard University, stated that cooperation is “the only thing that will redeem mankind”.

Echoing this, Nicholas Davis says: “If we have the courage to take collective responsibility for the changes underway and the ability to work together to raise awareness and shape new narratives, we can embark on restructuring our economic, social and political systems to take full advantage of emerging technologies.

“The complexity of the technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the breadth of their impact means that all stakeholder groups need to work together on innovative governance approaches.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is developing a new world order that cuts across physical, geographical and political boundaries, affecting consumers at such a speed that they can now react to breaking news before the governments can.

The Facebook Revolution in Egypt, which resulted in the overthrow of the heavyweight 29-year-old regime of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, is a case in point. It was like a silent coup d’etat by the people and influenced by social media; a revolution that allowed the people of the Arab world to raise their voices and force change in the way the governments were functioning – or not functioning.

New digital applications will give more teeth and voice to the people, so much so that the governments across the developing world will have to cope up, behave and be nice to their people.

The new world order, engineered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution will empower consumers in such a way that every dollar spent will come under scrutiny by stakeholders – be it advertising spend government expenditure.

People will be able to raise their voice even where democracy lags and people are disenfranchised. Technology will cut down all barriers and person-to-person communication will become much stronger. It will create a more transparent society and reduce corruption and nepotism. Technology will expose those at the wrong side of the society.

Analysts feel that the world is still at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. How it will shape up in the future remains to be seen. However, two things are pretty clear – it will be drastically different and it will be fast.

However, the most interesting aspect of this revolution is that it will empower people and consumers and give them a stronger voice than they have ever had in human history.

“The new technology age, if shaped in a responsive and responsible way, could catalyze a new cultural renaissance that will enable us to feel part of something much larger than ourselves – a true global civilization,” Prof Schwab says. “We can use the Fourth Industrial Revolution to lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny.”