March 17, 2019

Digital Disruptions - facing the fact


The evolving of technology and revolution of industry are correlated. In some cases, these two…

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Digital Disruptions - facing the fact

The evolving of technology and revolution of industry are correlated. In some cases, these two overlap. Generations of computers (five) explain the history of computers based on evolving technologies while industrial revolution refers to the transition of manufacturing process. Industrial revolution doesn’t exist without evolving technology. In this note I am more inclined to say more about the industrial revolution and its astounding influence in the digital age. As an introduction to technological evolution however, with each new generation, computer circuitry, size, and parts have been miniaturised, the processing and speed doubled, memory increased, and usability and reliability improved. The five generations of technology (computers) are characterised by electrical current flowing through the processing mechanisms:

  • withinvacuum tubes (1940s -1950s) – 1st generation
  • withintransistors (1950s -1960s) – 2nd generation
  • withinintegrated circuits (1960 - 1970s) – 3rd generation
  • withinmicroprocessor chips (1970s to Present) – 4th generation
  • withinsmart devices capable of artificial intelligence. (The Present and The Future)– 5th generation

Notethat the timeline specified for each generation is tentative and not definite.The generations are actually based on evolving chip technology rather than anyparticular time frame.

Industrial Revolutions

Thereare four distinct periods of industrial revolution throughout history that havetransformed our modern society. Probably, in my view, no one else has put thefacts together for us than Klaus Schwab, the author of the book “The FourthIndustrial Revolution” and credit goes to Schwab and I will literally sharewith you exactly the way he explained it to us. Schwab describes an industrialrevolution as the appearance of “new technologies and novel ways of perceivingthe world that trigger a profound change in economic and social structures.”

So,the first one - The Age of MechanicalProduction - the one with steam power - that was the first industrialrevolution. When you heat water, you get steam. And beginning around 1760,through the advent of the steam engine, steam was powering everything fromagriculture to textile manufacturing. Society used to be largely agrarian,which is a fancy way of saying that life used to be centred around farming. Butwith steam power, those agrarian societies gave way to urbanization. The worldbegan to rely on steam power and machine tools, while steamships and railroadsrevolutionized how people got from A to B. And what emerged as the new centreof community life - the factory. But factory life was difficult. Unskilledfactory laborers were cheap and plentiful. They were made to work long hours,often in unsafe conditions. Even children worked in factories, putting in14-hour shifts alongside adults. Such conditions endured into the 20th century.Ultimately, advancing industrialization created a middle class of skilledworkers. Cities and industries grew more quickly than ever before, andeconomies grew along with them.

The Second Industrial Revolution - TheAge of Science and Mass Production - things started to speed up with a number of keyinventions. Think gasoline engines, airplanes, chemical fertilizer. Allinventions that helped us go faster and do more. But advancements in scienceweren’t limited to the laboratory. Scientific principles were brought rightinto the factories. Most notably, the assembly line, which effectively poweredmass production. People follow the jobs, and the early 1900s saw workersleaving their rural homes behind to move to urban areas and factory jobs. By1900, 40% of the US population lived in cities, compared to just 6% in 1800.Along with increasing urbanization, inventions such as electric lighting,radio, and telephones transformed the way people lived and communicated. Whenyou stop and think about it, it was this industrial revolution, the second one,that ushered in the modern world.

The Third Industrial Revolution - TheDigital Revolution- So, if you’re reading this, you’re experiencing some of the wonders of thedigital revolution right now. You’re enjoying the cloud, the Internet, and somekind of handy device that lets you access both. You can even be reading this onyour phone. Beginning in the 1950s, the third industrial revolution broughtsemiconductors, mainframe computing, personal computing, and the Internet - thedigital revolution. Things that used to be analog moved to digitaltechnologies, like an old television you used to tune in to with an antenna(analog) being replaced by an Internet-connected tablet that lets you streammovies (digital). The move from analog electronic and mechanical devices topervasive digital technology dramatically disrupted industries, especiallyglobal communications and energy. Electronics and information technology beganto automate production and take supply chains global.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution - each of these firstthree industrial revolutions represented profound change. We’re talking majorsocietal transformation. Life went from being all about the farm to all aboutthe factory, and people moved from the country into town with the introductionof mechanical production. How people lived and worked fundamentally changedwith the discovery of electricity and mass production. And most recently, thedigital revolution altered nearly every industry, once again transforming howpeople live, work, and communicate.

So,where are we now? Well, at this moment, many of the technologies people dreamedof in the 1950s and 60s have become a reality. Maybe we don’t have flying carsyet, but we’ve got robots! Plus, there’s genetic sequencing and editing,artificial intelligence, miniaturized sensors, and 3D printing, to name a few.And when you put some of these technologies together, well, let’s just say theinnovations are unexpected and surprising. This is the beginning of the next (starting now!) great industrialrevolution: The Fourth Industrial Revolution. The fourth industrial revolutionis packed with a revolutionary experience. It has increased material wealth,extended life, and is being a powerful force for social change. It underminedthe centuries-old class structure in societies and reorganized the economic andphilosophical worldview of most of the countries. We, as a society cancapitalize on it and practice the following “cultural” adjustments to sense andbenefit from it.

Towards a new cultural renaissance

Wemust not forget that the era we currently live in, the Anthropocene or HumanAge, marks the first time in the history of the world that human activities arethe primary force in shaping all life-sustaining systems on earth. It is up tous.

Todaywe find ourselves at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution, lookingforward and, more importantly, possessing the ability to influence its path.Knowing what is required to thrive is one thing; acting upon it is another.Where is all this leading and how can we best prepare? Indeed, it would benaive to claim that we know exactly where the fourth industrial revolution willlead. But it would be equally naive to be paralysed by fear and uncertaintyabout what that direction might be. The eventual course that the fourthindustrial revolution takes will ultimately be determined by our ability toshape it in a way that unleashes its full potential. Clearly, the challengesare as daunting as the opportunities are compelling. Together, we must work totransform these challenges into opportunities by adequately - and proactively -preparing for their effects and impacts. The world is fast changing,hyper-connected, ever more complex and becoming more fragmented but we canstill shape our future in a way that benefits all. The window of opportunityfor doing so is now.

Asa first and vital step, we mustcontinue to raise awareness and drive understanding across all sectors of society,which is what this note aspires to achieve. We must stop thinking incompartmentalized ways when making decisions - particularly as the challengeswe face are increasingly interconnected. Only an inclusive approach canengender the understanding required to address the many issues raised by thefourth industrial revolution. This will require collaborative and flexiblestructures that reflect the integration of various ecosystems and which takefully into account all stakeholders, bringing together the public and privatesectors, as well as the most knowledgeable minds in the world from allbackgrounds.

Second, building on a sharedunderstanding, we need to develop positive, common and comprehensive narrativesabout how we can shape the fourth industrial revolution for current and futuregenerations. Although we may not know the precise content of these narratives,we do know critical features that they must contain. For example, they mustmake explicit the values and ethical principles that our future systems mustembody. Markets are effective drivers of wealth creation, but we must ensurethat values and ethics are at the heart of our individual and collectivebehaviours, and the systems they nourish. These narratives must also evolveprogressively higher degrees of perspective-taking, from tolerance and respectto care and compassion. They should also be empowering and inclusive, driven byshared values that encourage this.

Third, on the basis of raised awarenessand shared narratives, we must embark on restructuring our economic, social andpolitical systems to take full advantage of the opportunities presented. It isclear that our current decision-making systems and dominant models of wealthcreation were designed and incrementally evolved throughout the first threeindustrial revolutions. These systems, however, are no longer equipped todeliver on the current, and more to the point, the future generational needs inthe context of the fourth industrial revolution. This will clearly requiresystemic innovation and not small-scale adjustments or reforms at the margin.

Insummary, as all three steps show, we cannot get there without ongoingcooperation and dialogue - at local, national and supra-national levels, withall interested parties having a voice. We need to focus on getting theunderlying conditions right, and not just concentrate on the technical aspects.As the principal architect of years of evolution, cooperation has been a driving force because it enables us to adaptamid increasing complexity and strengthens political, economic and socialcohesion through which substantial progress is achieved. With effective multi-stakeholdercooperation, it is convincing that the fourth industrial revolution has thepotential to address - and possibly solve - the major challenges that the worldcurrently faces. In the end, it comes down to people, culture and values.Indeed, we need to work very hard to ensure that all citizens across cultures,nations and income groups understand the need to master the fourth industrialrevolution and its civilizational challenges. Let us together shape a futurethat works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantlyreminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremosttools made by people for people. Let us therefore take collectiveresponsibility for a future where innovation and technology are centred onhumanity and the need to serve the public interest, and ensure that we employthem to drive us all towards more sustainable development. We can go evenfurther. If shaped in a responsive and responsible way, the new technology age couldcatalyse a new cultural renaissance that will enable us to feel part ofsomething much larger than ourselves - a true global civilization. The fourthindustrial revolution has the potential to robotize humanity, and thuscompromise our traditional sources of meaning - work, community, family,identity. Or we can use the fourth industrial revolution to lift humanity intoa new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. Itis incumbent on us all to make sure that the latter is what happens.