Fourth Industrial Revolution
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - February 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a term that is becoming more and more widely used especially in the academic, business and science sectors. I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at the recognition rites of the graduate schools of the DLSU  Ramon del Rosario College of Business. The invitation included a suggestion that I could include in my talk how the graduates could prepare for the 4th Industrial Revolution.

I have realized, however, that this term is either not known even by business and political leaders or is widely misunderstood even in the academe. First, this is a term that is not yet generally accepted. One of the most prolific and respected writers about the future of humankind in the next 25 years is Yuvval  Noah Harari. His books are on the recommended list of people like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and Barack Obama. In his books, he describes a future world of artificial intelligence and integrated network. 

I have written two columns about his books because I believe him when he says the next technological revolution presents the greatest threat and opportunity for humankind that is not prepared. Millions of jobs and careers will be wiped out – not by robots but by integrated networks. 

One person that has been responsible for popularizing the term Fourth Industrial Revolution is Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. This is the annual affair that gathers thousands of the world’s political and business elite in Davos, Switzerland every year. In 2016, he published the book The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Since I have written about two books of Harari, I felt I should read and write about Schwab’s which actually has the same predictions but presents a different perspective. As a frustrated historian, I especially like his short but insightful first chapter where he gives a historical context. He writes: “The word revolution denotes abrupt and radical change. Revolutions have occurred throughout history when new technologies and novel ways of perceiving the world trigger a profound change in economic systems and social structures.”

He then briefly outlines five revolutions. The first was the agrarian revolution which allowed humankind to shift from foraging to farming and was made possible by the domestication of animals. Food production improved, transportation improved, population grew and human settlements became larger leading to the rise of cities. 

The first industrial revolution spanned from about 1760 to 1840 triggered by the invention of the steam engine. This led to the railroad, steam ships. The second industrial revolution started in the late 19th century into the early 20th century. This period saw the advent of electricity, telephone, automobiles, airplanes and the assembly line which makes mass production possible. 

In the 1960s, the third industrial revolution began and is still ongoing. Other writers call this period the computer or the digital revolution, which I think is a better term.  The main drivers of this revolution were the development of semiconductors, mainframe computing in the 1960s, personal computing in the 1970s and 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s. However, there are others who believe that the new revolution has already begun.

In his book, Schwab maintains that this 4th revolution is vastly different in scale, scope and complexity from any that have come before; and will radically alter how we live and work. There are already new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital, and biological worlds which are affecting economies, industries and governments. It is even challenging ideas about what it means to be human. 

Schwab points out that artificial intelligence is already all around us from supercomputers, drones and virtual reality to 3D printing, DNA sequencing, smart thermostats, wearable sensors and microchips smaller than a grain of sand.  Soon he foresees the development of nanomaterials that are 200 times stronger than steel and yet are a million times thinner than a strand of hair. 

In the second chapter, Schwab discusses the four main physical manifestations of the technological trends which are the easiest to see because of their tangible nature. The first are autonomous vehicles. The list includes driverless cars, trucks, drones, aircraft and boats. 

Second is additive manufacturing or 3D printing which consists of creating a physical object by printing layer after layer from a digital 3D drawing or model.  For the moment its application is limited to the automotive, aerospace and medical industries. Eventually, this technology could be used in clothing and footwear as well as in health related products such as implants designed to adapt to the human body. 

Third is advanced robotics where tremendous progress is expected to make collaboration between humans and robots an everyday reality. The fourth is new materials which are much lighter, stronger, recyclable and adaptable including materials that are self cleaning, metals with memory to revert to different shapes, ceramics and crystals that turn pressure into energy. 

The book ends with an appendix that shows the results of a survey of 800 business leaders listing the 23 technology shifts, and the tipping points and the date of their expected arrival in the market. For example, 3D printers may create human organs – a process called bioprinting. By 2025, it is expected that there will be the first transplant of a 3D printed liver. This will address the shortage of donated organs. 

In his last chapter, Schwab offers ideas on how to harness these changes and shape a better future – one in which technology empowers people rather than replace them, progress serves society rather than disrupt it, and in which innovators respect moral and ethical boundaries rather than cross them. 

Schwab, unlike other authors like Harari, presents an optimistic vision of the future.

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on March 2, 16 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) and an Adult Series session on Creative Nonfiction on March 30 (1:30-4:30 pm)  with Susan Lara at Fully Booked BGC.  For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

 Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
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