Fourth Industrial Revolution and It Implication For Societal Development

“We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another. The velocity of disruption and the acceleration of innovation are hard to comprehend or anticipated”

Charles Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

As you are well aware, the world is going through an information technology revolution that has drastically changed many facets of the human life, from education, health care, industry, economy, politics, governance, to entertainment. Today, we stand on the brink of a technological revolution that has fundamentally altered the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation is unlike anything humankind has experienced before.

Today, Information has become a strategic resource, a commodity and foundation of every activity. We speak of a knowledge economy, a digital economy, knowledge workers, and knowledge societies.

First came steam and water power; then electricity and assembly lines; then computerisation. The question is, what comes next? The next big thing is what Charles Schwab is calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The First Industrial Revolution started in Britain around 1760. It involved a change from mostly agrarian societies to greater industrialization as a consequence of the steam engine and other technological developments. The steam engine enabled new manufacturing processes, leading to the creation of factories. This Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production.

The Second Industrial Revolution came roughly one century later and was characterized by mass production in new industries like steel, oil and electricity. It involved expansion of industries and mass production as well as technological advances. The light bulb, telephone and internal combustion engine were some of the key inventions of this era.

The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. The inventions of the semiconductor, personal computer and the internet marked the Third Industrial Revolution starting in the 1960s. This is also referred to as the “Digital Revolution.”

We’re on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR), or what others call Industry 4.0. It’s quite different than the three Industrial Revolutions that preceded it—steam and water power, electricity and assembly lines, and computerization—because is challenging our ideas about what it means to be human.

The FIR is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. This is leading to the creation of new technologies that will usher in a new industrial era characterised by exponential growth, inter – connectedness, increased human productivity and the blurring of the lines between man and machine.

Klaus Schwab published his book, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” in 2016 to describe how this fourth revolution is fundamentally different from the previous three.According to Schwab, “The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril. My concern, however, is that decision makers are too often caught in traditional, linear (and non-disruptive) thinking or too absorbed by immediate concerns to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.”

Schwab argued a technological revolution is underway “that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.”  He outlines the key technologies driving this revolution, discusses the major impacts on governments, businesses, civil society and individuals, and suggests ways to respond.

Experts predict that these technologies have great potential to continue to connect billions more people to the web, drastically improve the efficiency of business and organisations and help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management, potentially even undoing all the damage previous industrial revolutions have caused.There is a common theme among each of the industrial revolutions: the invention of a specific technology that changed society fundamentally.

A disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry.  The resulting shifts and disruptions mean that we live in a time of great promise and great peril. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting almost every industry in every country and creating massive change in a non-linear way at unprecedented speed.

The unprecedented societal transformation ushering in the fourth industrial revolution is based on how technologies such as big data, autonomous vehicles, digital technology, advances in robotic technology, augmented reality, cloud computing, internet of things, and artificial intelligence are merging with humans’ physical lives. These are disruptive technologies changing how we live and work.

Other disruptive mega projects such as Airbnb, Uber, Trivago, Tesla, solar, virtual reality, Nano science, and DNA engineering have arisen in most industries to change our lives.

One of the greatest promises of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is to potential is to improve the quality of life for the world’s population and raise income levels.

Thus, society need to adequately plan to put in place structures that will address the changes being brought about by the FIR.  Schwab calls for leaders and citizens to “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

There is the need for the development of leaders who posses the knowledge and skills to manage their countries through these dramatic shifts. As a country, we need to embrace the changes being brought about by the FIR.

The future is now  andis changing very quickly in a disruptive manner. We should be living the future now and we must rise to the challenge to meet it and thrive in the new industrial revolution.

Nana Prof. Osei Darkwa, President

African Virtual Campus

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