Are you prepared for the Fourth Industrial Revolution? If not, now’s the time to start prepping because it’s on our doorstep. You’re probably familiar with the first three Industrial Revolutions – the introduction of steam power and mechanization, then electricity and mass production, and most recently, the internet and automation – and how they shook up the world.
Now we’re at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is like the Third Industrial Revolution on steroids – the rapid digitalization of our lives driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), quantum computing power, nanotechnology, blockchain technology, biotechnology, 3D printing, and so on.
Put more simply: imagine all aspects of human life being disrupted by rapidly expanding digital technologies that are advancing at a breakneck pace. If you lean more lo-tech (or even Luddite) then ready your bug-out bag and buckle up – the perfect storm of advanced technologies is upon us.
In this blog post, we'll dive into what exactly defines the fourth industrial revolution, some potential benefits and dangers, and how you can best prepare yourself for its arrival.
What Is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
You may have heard the buzzwords “Fourth Industrial Revolution” or "Industry 4.0" floating around, but what exactly do they mean? In essence, it's the blurring of lines between the physical and digital worlds.
The term was popularized by World Economic Forum founder and chairman Klaus Schwab.
The WEF explains the Fourth Industrial Revolution like this:
“It is a new chapter in human development, enabled by extraordinary technology advances commensurate with those of the first, second and third industrial revolutions. These advances are merging the physical, digital, and biological worlds in ways that create both huge promise and potential peril.”
Technological advancements tend to be a double-edged sword – both a boon and a bane. Below we’ll take a look at both sides of the coin, with four possible benefits, and four possible risks with what’s to come.
4 Potential Benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
- Higher productivity: Automation can boost efficiency and output and lead to cost savings for businesses and time savings for workers. It can take a mundane task off an employee’s hands, freeing up their time to focus on more important tasks. The same could be applied to your personal to-dos.
- Safer work environments: The use of advanced technology could lead to safer work environments. Through data analysis, potential threats to safety can be identified and addressed before they become a problem. Sensors and other specialized wearables can be used to monitor employee safety in real-time to reduce the risk of accidents or alert workers if there is a dangerous situation, resulting in less workplace injuries or fatalities.
- Convenience and quality of life: Smart home devices allow you to check on your pet and control lights and the thermostat even when you’re not home. Perhaps next on the horizon are robot butlers – or at least AI-based virtual assistants that could simplify tasks like scheduling appointments or write your grocery list for you depending on what recipes you want to make.
- Strides forward in medicine: Advancements in healthcare technology could improve diagnostics and provide better treatments for different diseases and conditions. One eventuality may be 3D printed organs. Another, in the words of Norwegian paralympic athlete Birgit Skarstein, “an unimaginable array of inventions and technological development that will have a dramatic impact on the lives of people living with disabilities all over the world. It will give us super powers.”
4 Potential Risks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
- Job Loss and Economic Inequality: One worrying thought is, “will robots replace us?” While this tech revolution will undoubtedly create new jobs and change others, it could also lead to job loss as companies replace human workers with machines. This could cause economic disruption and widen the gap between rich and poor. Plus, the uneven distribution of technological advancements could also lead to economic disparity.
- Loss of Privacy and Cybersecurity Threats: As everything becomes increasingly connected and online, it becomes more vulnerable to hacking and security breaches. Plus, personal data is already being gathered and sold – it will only get worse (and more invasive) as data analytics get smarter.
- Social Isolation and Mental Health Issues: Our current state of technology already has a lot of individuals feeling disconnected and lonely. Many people – and especially kids – compare themselves to unrealistic “ideals” they see on social media. These issues stand to get worse.
- Ethical Concerns: The blurring of lines between the physical and digital worlds and what’s real and what’s artificial is murky moral territory and extremely troubling for some. Technologies like genetic engineering and killer robots also raise a lot of ethical questions.
How to Prepare for Future Changes
Technology moves at a whirlwind pace, so prepare now to weather the coming technological storm. Here are a few tips on how to prepare:
- Stay tuned and informed: The best way to make sure you're prepared for the future is to stay informed. Read up on emerging tech and keep abreast of current events and research.
- Invest in learning and development: Learning doesn’t stop when you leave school. If you want to future proof-your job or business, learn how to leverage new technologies to optimize your workflow. There are tons of free tutorials, or you could invest in online courses that can give you an edge over your competition. Alternately, you can learn a hands-on skill, like plumbing or floral arranging, that robots won’t be doing anytime soon.
- Embrace change: Change can be scary, but it can also bring new opportunities if you're willing to take the risk. Look at changes as opportunities for growth rather than something to fear or be avoided. Practice open-mindedness and you might be pleasantly surprised.
- Stay Cyber-Vigilant: As noted above, everything being connected and online ups the ante on potential cyber-attacks and puts your personal data at risk. Be aware of this threat and be vigilant about cyber safety and keeping your data secure. For more tips on cyber safety, check out our blog: “An Ever-Present Threat in Our Tech-heavy World: How to Protect Yourself and Prepare for Cyberattacks.”
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution picks up steam, it’s important to consider the implications – good and bad – of things like AI, automation, Big Data, and the Internet of Things. On one hand, these technologies have the potential to boost productivity, provide convenience, and even lead to medical breakthroughs. On the other hand, there are tough ethical questions ahead and potential negative outcomes like job loss, invasion of privacy, and spiking mental health issues.
Whether you believe the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring a global utopia or a dystopian nightmare, arm yourself with the knowledge and skills to prepare. To stay ahead of the technological storm, you must understand what is coming, and be ready to adapt to the rapidly changing world.