What is Industry 4.0?

Previous industrial revolutions liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however, fundamentally different. It is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human. [Ref]  Watch the video of what is IR4 

Since the 1700’s world has seen periods of huge social, political and economic change that resulted with new discoveries. “Industrial Revolution, in modern history, is the process of change from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. This process began in Britain in the 18th century and from there spread to other parts of the world. Although used earlier by French writers, the term Industrial Revolution was first popularized by the English economic historian Arnold Toynbee (1852–83) to describe Britain’s economic development from 1760 to 1840. ” [Britannica]

The First Industry Revolution

In the period 1760 to 1830 the Industrial Revolution was largely confined to Britain. Aware of their head start, the British forbade the export of machinery, skilled workers, and manufacturing techniques. The British monopoly could not last forever, especially since some Britons saw profitable industrial opportunities abroad, while continental European businessmen sought to lure British know-how to their countries. Two Englishmen, William and John Cockerill, brought the Industrial Revolution to Belgium by developing machine shops at Liège (c. 1807), and Belgium became the first country in continental Europe to be transformed economically. Like its British progenitor, the Belgian Industrial Revolution centred in iron, coal, and textiles.

The Second Industry Revolution

Despite considerable overlapping with the “old,” there was mounting evidence for a “new” Industrial Revolution in the late 19th and 20th centuries. In terms of basic materials, modern industry began to exploit many natural and synthetic resources not hitherto utilized: lighter metals, new alloys, and synthetic products such as plastics, as well as new energy sources. Combined with these were developments in machinestools, and computers that gave rise to the automatic factory. Although some segments of industry were almost completely mechanized in the early to mid-19th century, automatic operation, as distinct from the assembly line, first achieved major significance in the second half of the 20th century. [Britannica]

Third Industrial Revolution

‘In the coming half century, the conventional, centralized business operations of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions will increasingly be subsumed by the distributed business practices of the Third Industrial Revolution; and the traditional, hierarchical organization of economic and political power will give way to lateral power organized nodally across society.’ Jeremy Rifkin 2012 

Fourth Industrial Revolution – Industry 4.0 – IR4

According to Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, we are at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution; this Revolution is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another. The fourth revolution is fundamentally different from the previous three, which were characterised mainly by advances in technology. In this fourth revolution, we are facing a range of new technologies that combine the physical, digital and biological worlds. These new technologies will impact all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenge our ideas about what it means to be human [Ref]. Contrary to the previous Industrial Revolutions, it is progressing at an exponential rather than a linear pace.

One of the greatest promises of the IR4 is the potential to improve the quality of life for the world’s population and raise income levels.  Our workplaces and organizations are becoming “smarter” and more efficient as machines, and humans start to work together, and we use connected devices to enhance our supply chains and warehouses. The technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution might even help us better prepare for natural disasters and potentially also undo some of the damage wrought by previous industrial revolutions.[Ref]

However Scwab has grave concerns about the organisations could be unable or unwilling to adapt to these new technologies and that governments could fail to employ or regulate these technologies properly. The shifting power will create important new security concerns, and that inequalities could grow rather than shrink if things are not managed properly[Ref]. World governments need to adequately plan for and regulate our new capabilities to ensure our security. There might be increased social tensions as a result of the socioeconomic changes brought by the IR4 that could create a job market that’s segregated into “low-skill/low-pay” and “high-skill/high-pay” segments. Typically, first-adopters of technology are the ones with the financial means to secure it, and that technology can catapult their continued success increasing the economic gaps [Ref]. Historically, industrial revolutions have always begun with greater inequality followed by periods of political and institutional change.  The industrial revolution that began at the beginning of the 19th century originally led to a huge polarisation of wealth and power, before being followed by nearly 100 years of change including the spread of democracy, trade unions, progressive taxation and the development of social safety nets [Ref]

Industry 4.0 and Health care

 

Schwab writes in his concluding paragraph, “in the end, it all comes down to people and values. […] We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to robotize humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature – creativity, empathy, stewardship – it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails [].”