The 4th Industrial Revolution is also known as 4 IR or Industry 4.0.

But what does it mean?

Listen to this episode of Short and Sweet AI to learn more or keep reading…

Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, coined the term ‘the 4th Industrial Revolution’ and wrote a book of the same title. He argued that we are now living during a 4th industrial revolution characterized by the fusion of AI, robotics, 3D printing, IoT, quantum computing, blockchain, autonomous vehicles, 5G, synthetic biology, virtual reality, and countless other technologies.

Schwab describes this as a “technological revolution” that is “…blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.”

In simpler terms, this 4th Industrial Revolution refers to how technology merges with humans. Our smartwatches rarely leave our wrists, and they monitor our heart rate, temperature, and how much we move.

Industry 4.0 embeds itself in our daily lives in the form of facial recognition, voice-activated assistants, or apps on our phones. If you think that the 4th Industrial Revolution is a distant reality for the future, think again. This isn’t the future. It’s happening now. The 4th Industrial Revolution is actively changing how we live and changing who we are.

To summarize, the 4th Industrial Revolution is:

  • Exponentially fast
  • Massively disruptive
  • Happening now

What came before the 4th Industrial Revolution?

The 4th Industrial Revolution is not the first of its kind. There have been three previous industrial revolutions, each introducing new technology that fundamentally changed society. However, all three of the previous industrial revolutions were very different.

The First Industrial Revolution occurred in 1760 and was triggered by the invention of the steam engine. This advancement soon led to factory manufacturing, and it wasn’t long before mass produced products replaced hand-made goods. Farming was a considerable industry back then, but technology evolutions and the move to factory manufacturing meant fewer sought farming as a career. A vast migration to the cities soon replaced the agricultural society.

The Second Industrial Revolution took place in the late 1800s, with many new technological inventions making an appearance. Some of these new technologies included the internal combustion engine, the lightbulb, the telephone, and major infrastructures such as railroads as well as the steel, oil, and electricity industries.

The Third Industrial Revolution began in the 1960s with the invention of semiconductors, personal computers, and ultimately, the internet.  

Is the 4th Industrial Revolution part of the Third Industrial Revolution?

Many people argue that the 4th Industrial Revolution and the ideas brought about by present-day developments should be viewed as part of the Third Industrial Revolution.

However, Schwab rejects this idea completely. Unlike previous IRs, the 4th Industrial Revolution is evolving super fast, at an exponential, not linear pace.

If you disagree, just take a look at some of the evidence:

  • It took 75 years for 100 million people to have a phone.
  • It took two years for 100 million people to sign up for Instagram.
  • It took <1month for 100 million people to use Pokémon Go.

The 4th Industrial Revolution involves many different technologies. Those technologies are merging. They have the power to transform entire systems across companies, industries, cultures, and countries.   

What are the pros and cons of this new Industry 4.0?

As with most things in life, the new Industry 4.0 has some pros and cons. So, let’s take a look at some of the pros first.

New technology has helped increase productivity, and there is evidence to show that our daily life quality has also improved. After all, we can have almost anything we want on-demand, from entertainment such as movies, music, and TV shows to our groceries. Almost anything can be accessed or purchased on demand.

There is likely to be a surge of new markets as more people come online. In Industry 4.0, entrepreneurship will explode worldwide as barriers to new businesses are lowered.

Now, let’s consider the cons of the 4th Industrial Revolution. One of the most prevalent concerns around Industry 4.0 is the possible cybersecurity risks as everything becomes so connected through the IoT.

Disruption of core industries has already begun with Airbnb challenging hotels, Uber and Lyft dissolving the taxi industry, and Amazon threatening any business that sells, well, anything!

There are also ethical concerns about access to data on individuals or groups being wide-spread and used for personal gain and manipulation.

However, the greatest threat of the 4th Industrial Revolution is massive inequality. This is something that Schwab predicts will be the most significant concern affecting society in the 4th Industrial Revolution. Experts predict there will be a massive divide between high-skill/high-pay workers and low-skill/low-pay workers in what could potentially become a winner-take-all economy as the middle-class dissolves.

4th Industrial Revolution is evolving super fast

The 4th Industrial Revolution shows no signs of slowing down. Usually, early adopters of new technology gain the greatest financial benefits, allowing them to jump ahead while the income gap widens. Is this the spectre of the upcoming century? No one knows. As the French philosopher Voltaire said, “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”

This revolution is creating change at warp speed. Even those with knowledge and preparation may not be able to keep up with the changes’ ripple effects. 

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