Week 1 Reading – Media 6

This week’s reading, by Klaus Schwab, looked at the idea of The Fourth Industrial Revolution and how this would effect various facets of society, particularly within the next ten years. He begins by listing the technologies which he believes will ‘drive’ the fourth industrial revolution: the driverless car, 3D printing, advanced robotics and ‘new materials’ like graphene (an efficient conductor of heat and electricity). He asserts that these digital technologies will significantly effect the global economy, power structures/politics and the environment, as well as the everyday civilian.

Schwab brings up an interesting point about how the internet and various other digital technologies are already changing the way businesses/enterprises are running. The internet has provided entrepreneurs with the ability to create ‘platform businesses’, such as Uber, Airbnb and, in Australia, Deliveroo and Foodora. These websites and Apps essentially work as ‘middle men’, connecting those who are in need of a certain service, with those who can supply that service, for the purpose of financial gain. By allowing users to interact and provide feedback, the platforms help to build a sense of trust between strangers, which may not have been possible in the ‘physical’ world. Schwab supplies a quote from Tom Goodwin, a media strategist, who wrote that ‘Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.’ Although I don’t personally agree with the statement that Facebook creates no content, I think it is still important to note that these new online enterprises have minimal physical assets, in comparison to traditional companies; yet, there are very few people who would rather drive for Uber and own a car, than own Uber.

So what does this mean for the future? Schwab is certain that more and more platform businesses will start to pop up and other businesses will look to move online. However, it is still questionable whether it will be the people, like Uber drivers, who will be empowered, or whether these types of businesses will give more power to those already at the top of the economical hierarchy. Ultimately ‘…whoever has the knowledge to operate the technology also has the power to do so’, which could potentially create a power imbalance in society. I suppose we will just have to wait and see…


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