Over the past three centuries, America and Europe have experienced three Industrial Revolutions.
Most people are familiar with the first, which brought steam, textile, and iron production to Europe and America in the 19th century, significantly shifting society away from rural, agrarian norms.
The second revolution introduced mass production through steel, oil, and electricity towards the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century. And the Third Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution, emerged in the 1980s and is ongoing today.
It’s hard to think of a world past the Digital Revolution, but we’re already experiencing it. Think of the news headlines that feel like part of a sci-fi film — cars that drive themselves, printers that can construct houses, trains that can make a 90-mile trip in 12 minutes and a computer processor that can diagnose cancer more accurately than a doctor. These technologies prove that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not far off, but rather, it's something right in front of us that we not only can see but are beginning to experience.
Beyond the Digital Revolution
During the Digital Revolution, we witnessed analog (e.g., radio and television) and electronic devices transform into the digital technologies that we are familiar with today. The personal computer, smartphone, and Internet all came to prominence during this time.
And now riding on the wave of the digital world created in the third revolution, we are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
According to the World Economic Forum, “[The Fourth Industrial Revolution] is characterized as the fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”
Technology is also advancing at an exponential rather than a linear rate, as we saw in previous revolutions.
In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are seeing symbiotic relationships develop between technology, our bodies, where we live, and the products we consume. This can look like using a Fitbit to track our vitals, or inquiring about a product with a smart speaker like Alexa. These changes and interactions are leading to a greater disruption among industries and the total transformation of how we work, think, and live.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution & the Advent of Advanced Manufacturing
There are immense benefits that can come from this revolution, and that will be experienced among a vast majority of industries. Automation, the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet of Things, mobile computing, and artificial intelligence, are at the forefront.
Manufacturing is one area that this revolution is changing for the better. The Age of Advanced Manufacturing is among us, as businesses have seen increased productivity through adopting Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) .
Implementing IIoT technologies such as robotics, comprehensive communication systems, and automation has led to manufacturing production doubling since 1984. We have also seen record high outputs in industries such as food and petroleum in recent years.
On top of increased productivity, the new technologies from this revolution will help improve the environment. Organizations that transition to advanced manufacturing technologies can expect to see their energy costs reduced by as much as 15 percent from the increased efficiency these new technologies will bring. The increased efficiency can also provide better sustainability of finite resources.
Through greater production, cutting costs, and better sustainability, the outcome is that digital technologies will continue to become more readily accessible and there will be a heightened standard of living on a global scale.
Potential Problems With the Fourth Industrial Revolution
With all of the benefits, there are still some concerns with the changes that the Fourth Industrial Revolution are bringing to industries.
With more technologies being run through cloud-based systems, there will be a greater threat of cyber-hacking. Organizations and individuals need to be aware of these threats, and should implement cybersecurity measures as this trend continues to grow.
The biggest concern, however, to come from the Fourth Industrial Revolution is its potential to displace a great majority of the labor force. An Oxford study reported that 47 percent of all jobs could be replaced within the next 25 years. This is due to the rapid growth and implementation of automation and artificial intelligence in virtually every industry from manufacturing to healthcare.
However, some experts are not so pessimistic. Brad Kaywell, chief executive of Uptake Technologies, argues the benefits to employees as “[these technologies] enable workers on the front line, on the road, and in the field to make smarter decisions, solve tougher problems, and do their jobs better.”
On top of allowing workers to perform their jobs better, the Fourth Industrial Revolution could introduce skilled positions such as a medical robot designer.
Whether you are excited or nervous about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it will continue to disrupt and change the way we live and work. As with every revolution, we must be able to adapt and innovate if we want to ensure positive progress.