What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?


According to some experts, were at the
beginning of a fourth Industrial revolution, and it’s one that’ll make
those that came before it look like mere dress rehearsals for the main event. But
what is it and why should you care? Sometimes, it seems that human history
has been one big, continuous, technological roller coaster ride. First
we discovered fire, and then agriculture. Then came the wheel, and then cities, and
manufacturing and trading, followed by steam power, electricity, mass production,
synthetic chemicals, computers, the internet, gene editing block chain, self
driving cars, artificial intelligence. Scientists are now even talking about
growing people in laboratories, and one day, possibly downloading our brains into
computers. This is one mind-blowingly crazy technological rollercoaster ride were on, and it’s getting faster and weirder by
the day. If you’re into tech of course, this is an incredibly exhilarating ride.
But it’s also a scary one; especially when you think about what might go wrong. Over the past 300 years, one wave after another of technological revolutions
have impacted our lives. It started with the first Industrial Revolution, when we
discovered how to fully harness the power of steam. Then, as we entered the
20th century, we worked out how to mass-produce products using electricity.
This led to a second industrial revolution, that lasted all the way up to
the 1970s when we discovered digital computers. And then we found ourselves in yet another revolution. But now we’re going through a fourth Industrial
Revolution; and it’s one that’s so radical, it makes the previous three look
like child’s play. What makes this fourth Industrial
Revolution so different is that we’re well on the way to developing the
ability to design and engineer the world around us using the very atoms and
molecules it’s made of. If you think of atoms and how they’re arranged in
materials is the “digital code” of the real world, we’re learning how to hack
this code; and in the process to change our reality. You can see this in areas
like gene editing and synthetic biology, where we are quite literally learning
how to hack biology by reprogramming DNA. But we’re also learning to hack stuff
that isn’t alive, by using atoms and molecules in new ways. Using
nanotechnology and other forms of advanced manufacturing for instance,
we’re creating designer materials that can be used in everything from our
clothes and our computers, to robots, spacecraft, even the food we eat. But this
isn’t the half of it. What makes this fourth Industrial Revolution so
mind-boggling is the way that we’re vastly enhancing this mastery of living
and non-living stuff with an incredibly powerful “secret sauce”. And this secret
sauce is cyberspace. in the third Industrial Revolution we discovered
digital computing, and we created a virtual world of bits and bytes. And
we’re now quite literally using this to add a fifth dimension to the world we
live in. Of course we’re all familiar with the three physical dimensions:
up-down, left-right, and front-back. And we’re used to thinking of time as a
fourth dimension. But cyberspace allows us to work outside of these more
conventional dimensions, and dip in and out of them at will. In other words,
cyberspace provides us with a back door to re-engineering and redesigning our
reality. It’s a bit like the science fiction idea of hyperspace in that it
gives us ways to achieve things in the real world that would be impossible if
we couldn’t sometimes step outside of it. This is really mind-blowing stuff. But
it’s also a little disquieting, because we’re in completely uncharted territory,
and we have remarkably little idea of what go wrong. Of course, we have some hints. We know for instance that we’re now at a
point where, if a technology gets out of hand, we can’t simply turn the clock back.
There is no easy reset button when you’re hacking reality. And we realize
that, if we’re not careful, a lot of people could get hurt in this fourth
Industrial Revolution, by losing their jobs for instance, or their rights, or
even their lives. Even more worryingly perhaps, we’re beginning to develop
artificial intelligences that live in cyberspace, and that we don’t fully
understand or control. What’s even more concerning is that, just as we can use
cyberspace to hack reality, so can they. This could get weird fast if we’re not
careful, and this is why everyone should care about the fourth Industrial
Revolution and where it’s taking us; because unless we learn how to develop
and use our new technological capabilities responsibly, this could end
up being one roller coaster ride of a revolution that, for some people, leaves
the rails with catastrophic consequences. The good news is though that there are
people working on this. For instance in the School for the Future of Innovation
in Society at Arizona State University, we’re training the next generation of
experts and leaders with the skills they need to navigate us safely through this
revolution. And organizations like the World Economic Forum and others are
working on new ways to ensure we can meet the emerging challenges, while
keeping the tremendous benefits that this revolution offers. Because without a
doubt, with the right understanding, people, and skills, this fourth Industrial
and technological revolution could radically improve our lives. But to do
this, it’s going to take an equally radical revolution in how we develop and
handle the technologies it involves responsibly, and beneficially.

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