Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

In the last couple of decades we have been ambulating in a buzzword fog, with terms that started from the erudite ubiquitous computing to the folksy data mining. Then the buzzwords became increasingly silly with cloud, virtualization, big data, data lakes, social networks, mobility, internet of things, and the like.

Something is going on, but in this buzzword fog it can be difficult to discern what is really happening. Starting tomorrow in Davos and Klosters, the World Economic Forum plans to shine some light on this cacophony and elucidate the current technological events.

First and foremost, a new term to replace the buzzword fog: The Fourth Industrial Revolution. The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

Th Industrial Revolutions

The inexorable shift from simple digitization (the Third Industrial Revolution) to innovation based on combinations of technologies (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) is forcing companies to reexamine the way they do business. The bottom line, however, is the same: everybody needs to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams, and relentlessly and continuously innovate.

The important here is not to be a Luddite and to keep learning. Like our great-grandparents had to learn manufacturing car engines instead of buggy whips, we have to learn aggregating information, services, and tools to produce more efficient tools for increasing the efficiency of society. As always, not everything is rosy—for example, at the upcoming Super Bowl event here in the Valley, the FBI is fearing a biohazard delivered by drone swarms flying over the Santa Clara stadium—but we have to stay focused and determined.

We must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. The World Economic Forum annual meeting starting tomorrow will shine some light and let us see what we should learn and where we should go next.