The fourth industrial revolution, an ensemble of, to an extent, scary calculated predictions on the world’s future. The author, Klaus Schwab, delves into on the behemoth that is the global technological digitisation that lies just around the corner.
While considering the present-future dynamic, I thought of the past-present dynamic, and the technological world that we live in and largely take for granted. All those grandparent’s ‘back when I was your age’ tales, where the Internet was a foreign, unimaginable concept, Television had 2 or 3 channels (if it even existed), and communication was top-down, with major corporation media oligopolies sending a magic bullet to the masses. Rupert Murdoch’s speech (below) eloquently explores the past-present media relationship.
In 50 years time when I have grandchildren, will I be the one relentlessly (confusedly) trying to adapt new to technology, or will I evolve as it evolves?
Of the ‘three clusters’ of technological ‘megatrends’ Schwab foreshadows; physical, digital and biological, I perceive the Physical as what seems to be most immediate. Autonomous vehicles are “improving at a rapid pace”, exampled by the Google Cars that have clocked over 1.5 million miles in North America. Schwab uses another example of the 3D printer, both obviously incredible innovations in technology, but what immediately comes to mind is the human impact and effect on economies and employment? The positives are obvious, as Schwab outlines their ability for enhancing efficiency and revolutionizing tasks, such as Amazon’s PrimeAir (package delivery via unmanned drones). However, consider the numerous accounts of factory employees being laid off due to the implementation of robotic manufacturing. This can eliminate human error – but could it eliminate the human-role all together? Schwab suggests that “When the next generation of robots emerges, they will likely reflect an increasing emphasis on human-machine collaboration”. This quote reminds me of Pixar’s Big Hero 6, who’s plot revolves around boy’s and robot’s friendship and collaboration. In fact, many sci-fi, dystopian or otherwise Film/TV come to mind.
However, “The more digital and high-tech the world becomes, the greater the need to still feel the human touch.” (100). This brings me back to earlier thoughts, with the efficiency and potential of digitisation combatting traditional human activity and interaction.
Focusing toward Schwab’s digital revolutionary cluster, it seems that we’re already knee-deep in it. Developed countries possess excessive amounts of internet-connected devices. But does this notion of being ‘always connected’ help or actually hinder communication? An objective commuter would notice everyone’s necks are strained downwards at their phones on a public train, nobody talks anymore. Digital talk has skyrocketed, but verbal has decreased. I recall a protest to this notion, a Facebook page was created called ‘the social carriage’, encouraging verbal communication amongst passengers in the last train carriage. It was an interesting concept, but no match for digitalisation and “the disruptive power of these technology platforms” (20).
However, as Schwab outlines, this disruption also enables the effective use of under-utilised assets of the public, which creates more job opportunities, with platforms such as Uber utilising technology to benefit consumers, without Uber actually owning any vehicles. Like-minded companies, through technology, are creating the means for people to do it themselves and become involved.
Another significant future technology highlighted is Bioprinting, a process that resonated with me. What could this mean for amputees? There is already practice and discussion with stem cells and their abilities to cure, grow and develop tissue. Looking to the future, what if the that bio-technological field can fuse stem-cells with animal genes, giving the local postman Hawk-like wings, or military soldiers precise Owl-like night-vision. The possibilities are rather scary. But as the reading later conveys, the possibilities also have ‘tipping points’.
To close up, the most important lesson I have taken away from this reading, was that as technology undeniably evolves, affecting personal lives, governments, organizations, etc, the challenge will be retaining the human elements.