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The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here
Published on 03/01/2017 | Strategy
THE REVOLUTION WAS INDEED TELEVISED. It was broadcast through black and white televisions, and later colour. A few years later, the internet pushed the revolution through our PCs, and more recently, to our phones. This was, of course, the 'Third Industrial Revolution', and it started roughly in the 1960s and was driven by the growth in electronics and information technology. The Third Industrial Revolution changed our living rooms, classrooms and offices, by making 'stuff' smaller, cheaper, but more powerful. Arguably it allowed for Globalisation and created billionaires, but also destroyed jobs and pushed many in the working class into poverty. Regardless of where you fall in the socioeconomic hierarchy, if you are reading this sentence then the Third Industrial Revolution has affected you in some way.
Thank god it's over.
In it's place, you guessed it, is the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A fusing of three pillars of advancements in physical, biological and digital technology that have emerged over the last decade or so. The physical advancements include robotics, drones and new materials like graphene. Genome engineering, gene therapy and nanotechnology are examples of biological improvements, and the best example for digital is the push into artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, or IoT. As expected, the Fourth Industrial Revolution also has cool synonym - Industry 4.0.
A fusing of three pillars of advancements inphysical, biological and digital technology that have emerged over the last decade or so.
To date, Industry 4.0 is more visible in First World countries, where ordering a taxi, making a payment, sharing files, or streaming video is commonplace. But like the three revolutions that preceded it, Industry 4.0 has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for everyone - rich and poor. One such example is the installation of IoT enabled water pumps in Kenya, by Danish company Grundfos, that broadcast the status of pumps to the Cloud, remove the need for (corruptible) middlemen, and create a safe and secure payment system via their RFID WaterCards.
On a more macro level, Industry 4.0 is leading to massive transportation and communication cost savings, improving efficiency and productivity in traditional and new markets. A Boston Consulting Group paper titled 'Industry 4.0 - The Future of Productivity and Growth in Manufacturing Industries' states that this new revolution will boost productivity across all German manufacturing sectors by €90 billion to €150 billion, improving productivity costs by between 15 to 25 percent.
This digital advancement is only one of the pillars of Industry 4.0. With respect to biological trends, the molecular mouthful, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR, has already been applied to gene therapy, through its ability to remove, stimulate, block, and dim genes. The application is broad, ranging from removal of genetic diseases, to increasing the prognosis after a heart attack, and even to creating immunity to viruses.
More often then not, the Industry 4.0 pillars act in combination, such as in the case of the biodegradable plastic, Reverte. When exposed to extended periods of UV light, the plastic's physical properties change allowing for biological attack from bacteria and other microbes. This engineered breakdown results in carbon dioxide, water, and further environmentally friendly biomass over a period of months, rather than the normal plastic lifespan of 500 to 1000 years. Overtime, this physical and biological Industry 4.0 advancement will help reduce the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris currently floating in the ocean.
Overtime, this physical and biological Industry 4.0 advancement will help reduce the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris currently floating in the ocean.
Another combination of Industry 4.0 pillars is seen in the Ekso Bionics exoskeleton (see picture above), or wearable robot, that combines physical and digital technology to help paraplegic patients, who have a biological handicap. Electric motors, gyroscope as well as trajectory and torque sensors, all controlled by an onboard computer, drive the aluminium and titanium skeleton frame, which simultaneously communicates with the Cloud, capturing rehabilitation data. It's artificial intelligence controls the amount of assistance the patient receives and can therefore adjust for stroke victims with only one side of their body paralysed. It not unfathomable that within a decade, this Industry 4.0 technology will relegate the wheelchair as a museum piece.
Of course, these are the upsides of Industry 4.0. Artificial intelligence and cheaper robotics will undoubtedly change the way we live, work and play. Some fear that this convergence of the three pillars will result in global turmoil and new geopolitical power struggles. Of course, it could also mean that we are closer to having our very own metal 'Rosie', the Jetson's robot maid. Or, more accurately with the combination of physical, biological and digital advancements of Industry 4.0, a "living cybernetic organism. Living tissue over metal skeleton". Let's hope that dream isn't terminated.
This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.