Technology has revolutionized the way our world goes about its work. Since the turn of the millennium, everything has been influenced and changed courtesy of technology. But, at this moment in time, the world is on the verge of experiencing a bigger industrial revolution. A revolution that will bring the planet closer and therefore requires a vital and comprehensive input from everyone including the public sector, private sector, civil society and the academic world.
Production during the First Industrial Revolution was powered by the use of water and steam. The Second Revolution witnessed an up gradation to electricity. The Third went one better and made use of electronics and information technology (IT) for enhanced manufacturing and production. The latest and the Fourth in the lines of revolutions is using the essence of the Third and digitizing it. This will help in integrating the physical, digital and biological world.
The Fourth revolution which is the fastest growing as compared any of the last three is primarily because of three reasons, velocity, scope, and system. The betterment witnessed in this revolution is not only influencing every industry but also altering the entire production, management and governance systems in those industries.
The new revolution would open further possibilities of the entire globe becoming one large market through smartphones that possess a powerful processing power, unlimited storage capacity and ease of access to knowledge. Moreover, the revolution would be further strengthened by the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), Wearables on Internet of Things and self-driving vehicles and advancement in various technologies such as bio, Nano, quantum etc.
AI is already on the up and the results are there for everything to see. From drones to virtual assistants, from translation software to self-driving cars, the scope is limitless. The progress in AI is triggered by an enhanced computing power and availability of data. This data is derived from software that is highly potent in discovering anything from new drugs to predicting our cultural interests. From engineers to designers to architects, everyone is making the most of the digital technology through activities such as computational designs and synthetic biology to initiate a combination between humans and everything attached to them.
Challenges and Opportunities
The Fourth Revolution has the ability, alike previous revolutions, to better the financial strength and quality of life of the masses. Up until now only the affording consumers that had access to the digital world have been able to improve their life’s efficiency and style by making the most of the current upsurge. The latest digital products and services such as booking of flights, paying online, shopping from online stores, listening to music, etc. has been few of the byproducts of the digital revolution that are being used.
On a larger front, technological innovations will also help in assisting supply chain mechanism through greater efficiency, effective productivity, lower logistics cost and faster communication. With the entire trade cost decreasing, penetration in new markets and improvement in economic growth would be imminent.
On the contrary, various economists such as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee target the digital revolution to cause greater inequality in the labor market as the machine would replace humans. They also argue that it would lead to major labor disruption and displacement. However, it can also be viewed differently as the revolution may lead to an increase in more safe, specialized and rewarding jobs.
The future picture will become clear with time and either one or a combination of both those possibilities may be correct. But, one thing is for certain, the future labor market would become more talent orientated than capital orientated. Meaning that the defining factor for production would be labor and not capital. Moreover, this trend would widen the socioeconomic and inequality gap between the lowly skilled and lowly paid against the highly skilled and highly paid.
Additionally, the socioeconomic gap may as well be the only adverse effect of the Fourth Revolution. Up until now the biggest beneficiaries of technological innovations have been the various stakeholders of intellectual and physical capital. This has predominately increased the gap between capital and labor-orientated markets. The ever increasing bridge between the skilled and unskilled workers is more evident than ever before especially in terms of earnings. And it has mainly resulted in majority countries to have faced a southwards trend when it comes to incomes. Furthermore, the highly skilled and unskilled are still in demand but the middle population is facing a lack of demand.
This growing trend is igniting a fear factor among the middle class for their financial future and the future of their coming generations. They are also disappointed by the treatment laid towards them by the corporations and government as this ultra-fast and highly income economy has very little for the ever-growing middle class. Another factor for the dissatisfaction is the generalization of digital technology and the usage of social media forums. The popularity of social media has given an ideal opportunity for cross culture integration but in reality, it has raised unreal and false expectations about individual and company success. It has also become the forum for spreading of high-end ideas and ideologies which have frustrated the non-accomplishing middle class.
The Impact on Business
One thing that all global CEOs, top-level business official and even the most connected ones agree upon is the uncertainty regarding the pace at which innovation would accelerate or the pace or numbers at which it will face disruptions. But, in all this madness, one thing is for sure that technologies that are driving the Fourth Revolutions are working wonders for businesses all around the world.
While the new technological innovations are assisting companies in fulfilling current supply needs in a more proficient way, it is also disrupting the already existing industry supply value chains. To add to the disruption vows, the proactive industry competitors are using the global digital market for better research, development, marketing, sales and distribution techniques to dislodge well-established businesses. And they are doing it faster than ever before with help of improved quality, speed and price factors.
On the demand side, the shift is mainly due to change consumer behavior patterns and increasing options which are handed to them courtesy of the brilliance of smartphones. This has prompted companies in quick adaption to the new consumer choices and delivering products and services accordingly.
The latest and modern technological platforms, that smartphones have made easy to access, are providing the adequate forum for demand to meet supply. This is resulting in the creation of new ideas regarding delivering and consumption of goods which in turn is also disrupting the existing industry norms. These platforms that are constantly transforming one industry after the other and has also made it easy for individuals and businesses to improve their financial prowess. It is because today they faces fewer barriers to progress and it is changing the professional world for good.
The Fourth Revolution is responsible for having four major effects on four aspects of businesses starting from customer service to product development to collaborative innovation and lastly to organizational structures. Customers, that remain the focal point for companies, are continuously being served in a more professional manner. Digital enhancement is constantly improving the quality, value and durability of product and service, besides introducing ways of their better maintenance. The fast improving digital industry that is experiencing top quality changes in customer experiences, data-based services and performance is prompting companies to work in tandem to find solutions. Lastly, the emergence of global entities and advanced business structures is forcing companies to modify the definition of talent, culture, and organizational structure.
The conclusion suggests that companies and its leadership need to redefine the way they do business by regularly innovating and challenge the benchmark of the industry. This is mainly because the fourth revolution is far more advanced in terms of technology as compared to the third which only experienced simple technological inventions.
The Impact on Government
With the help of new technological platforms, citizens will be able to interact with the government in a healthier way. They will be able to lodge complaints, give suggestions and welcome feedback. On the other hand, governments to use other technological products and services such as contemporary surveillance systems to control and keep a better eye on the masses. These new developments will also continuously force the governments to change their public policy and approach and also distribute their power to their subordinates in a more proficient manner. At the end, the defining factor would be government and public offices’ ability to adapt to fast paced changes. If they can, then they would be able to blossom through transparency and improved efficiency but if they cannot, they will face increasing pressure.
The system followed by the governments and public offices dates back to the Second Revolution. They still believe in assessing the problem, devising a strategic response and then making the decision. In other words, they follow a strict and steady top to down approach. But, the Fourth Revolution is everything but slow. Therefore in order to cope up with the pace of the current global movement, legislators, and regulators need to rework their strategy because at things stands, they are falling behind problematically.
The question that arises is, can governments safeguard the interests of the public and also support technological advancement at the same time? The answer is yes but only through adopting swift response approach to the massive changes in software engineering and business structure, similar to private sectors. Hence, government and regulators need to learn to regulate by constantly reinventing their approach as per the technological forward movement and also by working hand in hand with the private sector and civil society.
The fourth revolution will also lead to a new type of security threat. As history suggests, technological advancements have been the backbone of wars. Today, the matter is slightly different yet more complex. Countries are combining traditional warfare techniques with elements that are uncommon to get an upper hand. This has led to a situation where distinguishing between wartime and peace, actual war and cyberwar is becoming difficult.
While, these developments may result in countries and terrorist groups in having the ability to cause mass scale destructions through modern weapons, countries can use the very same technology to protect themselves and nullify or limit the impact of that destruction. It has become a two-way road that allows for new ways of protection and also bull’s eye precision in targeting.
The Impact on People
The impact of the fourth revolution does not end there. It is and will continue to impact us as humans alongside impacting our lifestyles, our relationships, the way we perceive certain things and the way we work and enjoy life. it is already changing medical science and the list of the number of things it can affect may never end. While being passionate about technology and welcoming it into one’s life is necessary but one thing is for sure, it will affect the way the world resides, loves and corporates. For example, the way this world relates to smartphones these days can surely cutting the core essence of relationship and self-reflection.
The world understands the importance of privacy but this technology keeps forcing us to get tracked through the information we share for enhanced connectivity purposes. This lack of control over our privacy would only increase in the coming years. Moreover, the progress in the fields of biotech and AI will redefine the limits of human capabilities and also reconstruct our moral and ethical boundaries.
Focusing on the future
The fourth revolution is nurturing and prospering in front of our eyes, therefore, we have to take responsibility for its evolution and the part we play in it. Thus, it is important that we only guide it a better way so that it benefits us and our future generations.
This can only be done through constructing a global view of the ways in which technology must reshape our world and the things in it. Technology is our greatest asset and greatest threat so we must give it timely attention and strategic thinking. Instead, we are busy in resolving the petty issues surrounding our world.
To conclude the argument, the important factor still remains people and their values. The world needs to prioritize humans and their empowering above anything else. The worst impact of the fourth revolution can be the transforming of humans into robots with no heart or soul. But, its best effect can be the uplifting of humans and their values based on the shared view of a better future. And as humans, we must believe the latter would prevail.