FourthIndustrial Revolution (4IR) is a topic that has been discussed over the pastfew years but even gained more attention after it became a focal view ofconversation at the World Economic Forum. Generally, 4IR is the concept ofblurring the real world with the technological world, which represents fundamentalchange in the way we live, work and relate to each other. In simpler term, newchapter in human development.
It could be the virtual reality (VR) that allowus to travel to virtual world to consume or communicate in ways, artificialintelligence or software working by the sides of humans, IBM’s Watson toidentify and diagnose symptoms of cancer and this is just a starting point. Ithas been a norm that technology has spread and seeped into each and every edgeof our lives. It is still a big question mark that how would 4IR leave impactson our lives, whether is it beneficial or might it be disastrous as well?4IRis mainly about empowering humans, not the rising of machines. Google DeepMindChallenge Match that went between AlphaGo, the AI and Lee Sedol the 18-timeworld champion was the first thing that came across my mind. It was shockingyet there are more to be discovered. The story is more nuanced as humans andcomputers are different, in terms of play style and both of them have strengthsand weaknesses. Computers tend to make decision fair and square, unbiased whilehumans tend to make decisions considering their emotion, at the same timeevaluating complex patterns to make creative and distinctive strategies.
Eventhough the AI might have won these matches, however humans are miracles to bediscovered. Software and technology hold the key to unseal the possibility andpotential of any human being to a far greater degree than in the past. In theother words, humans are able to take advantages of machines to improvethemselves.
It is possible too that displacement of labour by machines wouldimprove in terms of safety and productivity.Inorder to succeed 4IR, people suppose to embrace the technology that is yet tocome, rather than fearing that their human skills would be devalued as thechanges by 4IR are inevitable. Thus, a mindset shift is important. We shouldbear in mind that these innovations and creations would strengthen theindustries and more – to the world in the terms of living quality, safety andsecurity. By applying the technology, people are able to handle their jobbetter. It is because the future of work would definitely be looking verydifferent from the past. It is believed that people with high perseverance,entrepreneurship and creativity will adapt themselves to the trend rather thanto hold onto the status quo, living in their own comfort zone.
On the otherhand, it could create a rise to the need of partially-skilled and fully-skilledworkforce and technologists, which means it could give rise to entirely newcategories of jobs, emerging to replace those given over to dramatic shift inwork. However, we are unable to foresee at this point where the scenarios areemerging and the history is suggesting that the outcome would be more likelythe combination of both.Thedigital revolution should be used only for good. Technology is neither good orbad, thus it is what you do with it that makes the difference. In the past, wehave our work done isolated, unaware of the negative effects that rises uponsociety and environment as a whole. As elites of the society, economic leaders,government officials, educators and citizens, we need to create a set of principlesand values that would bring us the future we wanted, maximising the benefits tofullest and minimising the side effects to the least, to the environment,safety and most importantly, the existence of mankind. It is because theboundary-less 4IR would offer unlimited possibilities. Thus, it would becreating higher degree of complexity for policy-makers and regulators trying tokeep up with the rapid pace of development.
As in previous era, new technologieswill carry negative impacts for instance AI and genetic engineering would alterour future in undesirable ways in the wrong hands. 4IRleads to continuous reinvention. Old business models could be rebuilt andpresented with strategies that enhance efficiency. For instance, on supply side,there are development in energy storage, grid technologies, real timeprocessing of customer and asset performance are transforming its operatingmethods. While on demand side, customers expect and value interactions at allpoints of their consumer right. Thus, leaders should be able to adapt the challengesand build up their resilience, making use of the trend instead of falling offunsustainable. In long terms, efficiency and productivity would rise.Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and supply chainswould be more effective and trade costs would diminish and it would give riseto more new markets and subsequently drive economic growth.
Despitethe benefits, we shouldn’t neglect the negative impact of 4IR. It might justcost us good as well. The revolution could yield greater inequality,particularly in the disruption in labour market. AI and increased automationalready have a huge impact on employment, and could lead to a crisis of workforcedevelopment which by one estimate, it would risk nearly half of jobs worldwidein the past two decades.
As machinery might substitute for labour across the partialor whole economy, it might just widen the gap between the gain to the capitaland gain to the labour. Consequently, talent would be seen as a more importantfactor in production, rather than capital, giving rise to a job market increasinglydivided into “low skilled – low pay” and “high skilled – high pay” segments,which would lead to an increase in social gap. Besides that, inequality is thegreatest societal concern in 4IR.
It is because the largest beneficiaries ofall would tend to be the capital – the innovators, the shareholders and theinvestors which might explain the widening gap of wealth on capital versus labour.4IRhas a huge impact on business. New technologies are introduced in many industries,which has created more and entirely new ways of serving existing needs and seriouslydisrupt the existing industry value chains for example flowing between agileand innovative competitors, global digital platforms for research and development,marketing, sales and distribution.
They have to improve faster than ever in thequality, speed, or price at which value is delivered. New technologies makeassets more durable and resilient while data is transforming in the way it ismaintained. In order to survive, they would have to express themselves in a newform of collaboration which suites the new era, combining customer experiences,data-based services and asset performances as well. In the end, it includes theemergence of global platforms and other new business models, which means thateverything would have to be reformed, talents, cultures and organisationalthought for instance.
Asfor the governmental superiors, 4IR has its effects too. As the convergencegoes on, technologies would increase platforms which enable citizens to engagewith government, dishing out their opinions or stands and coordinate their efforts.As a result, there would be more interactions between government and the publicauthorities, thus government will gain more control over the populations, bythe pervasive surveillance systems and the power to take over digital infrastructure.
However, they would have to face pressure to change their current approach topublic engagement and the policy-making, as their main roles of conducting newpolicy diminishes new competition sources and decentralization andredistribution of power because of the new technologies introduced. Theiradaptation ability will decide if the government and public authorities couldsurvive in this new era of industry. They should be able to subject their organisationto a new level of transparency and efficiency and endure the disruptive change.If they do not evolve, they would be facing numerous troubles, especially inthe realm of regulation. Current system of public policy and decision evolvedwas mainly based on the Second Industrial Revolution where the policy-makershad the time to do research on specific issues and develop the necessary decisionsor appropriate regulations. The whole decision as designed to be linear andmechanistic, following a strict “top to down” approach, however such a solutionis no longer applicable. Given that the legislators and regulators are challengeda whole new level of stress, considering the rapid change and huge impacts of4IR on politics, economics and socials.
Besides, it will cause blurring to thedefinition of conflicts. Modern conflicts involving states are increasingly “hybrid”in nature, combining both traditional battlefield technique and cyber. The distinctionbetween peace and chaos will become further blurred. The security of the nationswill be on risk and the government will have to improve the security furtherahead since autonomous or biochemical weapons would be easier to use, individualsor a small group would be enough to put states in chaotic.Forpeople, 4IR will not only change what we do but also what we are. It might affectour identity: definition of privacy, sense of ownership, time we divided towork and rest, how we improve ourselves, enhance our skill, communicate withothers and nourish a relationship. There is no limit to the things mightchange, and they are only bounded by our imagination.
One of the issues thatmight be risen from 4IR is that the inexorable innovations could possibly diminishour quintessential human abilities. A raw example is our relationship withsmartphones. Constant usage of smartphones or tablets seem to diminish our timeto pause for a rest, reflect and engage in a meaningful conversation, eitherwith friends or family. Next big thing is our privacy. The rising of new informationtechnology will challenge individual right of privacy.
We understand what itmeans, however on the other hand, it is a must to track and share informationas the trending of new connectivity. At the same time, the revolutionsoccurring in biotechnology which are redefining what it means to be human by pushingback the current thresholds of lifespan, health, cognition and capabilities,will require us to redefine our ethical and moral limits.Technology and the disruptions that come together with it is whichhumans have no control over. We, all of the mankind is responsible to lead itsevolution, in what we decide on daily issues as residents of Earth, superiorsand consumers. Thus, we should grab every opportunity and power we hold as to shapethe future of 4IR as to achieve the objectives we wanted, strengthening mankindin better way round. In order to dothis, thus, we must develop objectives and worldwide shared outlooks of howtechnology is going to affect our daily basis and reshaping our life in economic,social, cultural, and human environments.
There has never been a time ofgreater promise, or one of greater potential peril. Today’s people however, aretoo often trapped, in terms of traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed bythe multiple issues which draw their attention, to think strategically aboutthe forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future. When it comes to the end, it will come backto people and values.
A future that works for all of us by putting people firstand empowering them is what we should shape. In its pessimistic most way, wemight be dehumanized. The 4IR may indeed have the potential to “robotize”humanity and thus to deprive us of our feeling and soul. But as a complement tothe best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship, it can alsolift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a sharedsense of destiny.
It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.