Part 1: Significance

What is 4IR?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is an amalgamation of advanced capabilities mixing artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), quantum computing, genetic engineering, and other technologies. These articles seek to explain how widespread 4IR already is, the potential they hold for humankind, the multiple risks, and how to mitigate them.

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We Barely See the Revolution, so Why Call It a Revolution?

The term revolution is not just jargon. It reflects the speed with which technology is advancing. Taking advantage of a revolution’s benefits and defending it from harm requires understanding its nature. Humans, for instance, were liberated from the primary task of feeding themselves with the agricultural revolution. Instead, they could follow other activities, which became more complex as they evolved. The first industrial revolution harnessed steam power to mechanize the production of goods and services, particularly in food and textiles. Likewise, the second industrial revolution used natural resources to create electricity, which paved the way for mass production. As a result of the third, automation of production and communications led to a revolution in society. Take a moment to think about how you are reading these words.  

As a result, economic growth led to population growth, contributing to climate change’s existential crisis. It remains to be seen whether the Fourth Industrial Revolution will accelerate negative tendencies or mitigate their impacts.

Why Does 4IR Seem to Be Invisible?

4IR is an invisible revolution. Digitalization and miniaturization have obscured the physical advances that marked previous industrial revolutions, such as open-cast mines and power plants.  As far as one can compare steam power with electric power, 4IR is the successor to the digital revolution. In the opinion of one commentator, the speed of current breakthroughs is unprecedented. ‘Compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace.’ Its invisibility illustrates Einstein’s maxim that ‘genius is simplifying the complex to make it simple.’

Why Is It Essential to Understand 4IR Properly?

Alan Tofler proposed the concept of ‘future shock’ in 1970. This was described as the “shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” Those with elderly relatives who struggle to initiate a Zoom call will appreciate this. Nevertheless, people adapted to the rapid pace of change brought about by the digital revolution. 4IR does not ask them to adapt. Beneficiaries of 4IR are unaware of the processes behind them, or they perceive them as incremental (or evolutionary). By failing to take the revolution as it is, we fail to address the interconnected societal, ethical, and economic issues new technology brings. The fusion of so many futuristic technologies has revolutionized the workplace and the concept of work itself. Medical advances have also profoundly affected society.  

Considering all of this, the stakes for understanding and responding to 4IR could not be higher. In the next post, we’ll examine in more detail how 4IR already works and the benefits it already provides. Finally, we discuss how 4IR is transforming business, and we end with maleficence. As 4IR becomes more accessible, companies and other institutions must protect against human incompetence, criminal intent, and cyberwar. As Lenin wrote, “no revolution is worth anything if it can’t defend itself.”

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