WHAT IS THE ‘FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION’?
Discussed for a number of years, the notion of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ gained prominence in 2016 when it was the focal point of that year’s World Economic Forum.
While the first industrial revolution in the late 1700s was characterised by steam and water, the second in the late 1800s by electricity and mass production, and the third in the mid 20th century by electronics and IT, the fourth industrial revolution is described as being based upon cyberphysical systems.
This essentially refers to new technologies that join the physical, digital and biological worlds, encompassing innovations such as AI, robotics, IoT, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, virtual reality, nanotechnology, smart technology, and more.
In his book on the subject, professor Klaus Schwab – founder and executive chairman of WEF – wrote that these technologies have the potential to connect billions more people to the web, drastically improve the efficiency of business and organisations, and help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management.
Other advocates have claimed various areas will be affected, including IT security, socio-economic factors and machine safety, among many others.
Some critics, however, have highlighted the risks and dangers involved with such a disruptive wave of new technologies. Among them are the weaponisation of technology, environmental threats due to geoengineering, cyber security, loss of privacy, job security and the polarisation of society.