Fourth Industrial Revolution – Unfolding the New Era

Introduction to Industry 4.0

The future is unfolding right in front of our eyes. The fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived with a bang and is redefining our lives even while you are reading these lines. We are entering into the era of Industry 4.0 where traditional techniques of management, manufacturing, communication, and travel are being reshaped, redefined, and revolutionized to the extent of making earlier ways outdated. We need to unlearn the old and relearn the new to remain valid in the new era. If you think this is an exaggeration then just observe how you were monitoring your heartbeat 5 years ago and how you are tracking it now! Artificial Intelligence, IoT (Internet of Things), Big Data, Networked Communications, 3-D Printing, Autonomous Drones, Biotechnology, etc. are the players forging the new era which is markedly different from where we are coming from.

Where are we coming from?

We are coming from the Third industrial revolution and going towards the Fourth. Let’s track our progress to have a semblance of the map, we have traveled so far.

To keep the bygone era concise, let us sum up the previous Industrial Revolutions in a table:

First Industrial Revolution (Industry 1.0)Use of Steam Power, Water, and Simple Mechanical Laws to Mechanize Production
Second Industrial Revolution (Industry 2.0)Use of Electricity or Electric Power to Achieve Mass Production and Standardization
Third Industrial Revolution (Industry 3.0)Use of Computers, Information Technology to automate the processes and reducing human labour.

Where are we going? – Industry 4.0

The Fourth Industrial Revolution though seems to be building upon the achievements of the Third Revolution but it has some defining characteristics and peculiarities which make it eligible to be called a ‘Revolution’ in itself.

There is more than just a fusion of technologies and integration of processes. The sheer speed of change and its scope is mindboggling. The lines between digital, physical, biological, and spatial arenas are getting blurred. Be it Augmented Reality, Fuzzy Logic, Wearable Devices or mind-reading sensors, we are looking towards the way of doing things where impossible seems to be a thing of the past. All other revolutions were built gradually and incrementally on the previous ones, but Fourth Industrial Revolution has led to an exponential growth in terms of its impact, scope, and applications.

For example, the use of excel sheets and models was introduced during the Third Industrial Revolution. At the advanced stages, we saw the use of Management Information Systems (MIS) where DSS (Decision Support Systems) were employed to crunch data processing of many months to a few hours. It helped to crunch data and present it nicely into charts, bars, and trendlines. Enter the age of Industry 4.0, data is collected by automated processes which are integrated via networked communications and cloud computing, the enormity of data puts it into the category of Big Data. Then you have AI which employs Machine Learning and Deep Learning, where it analyses the data and makes necessary changes in the application of processes or generates reports or red-flag any audit bungling or process flaws. But wait, all this is happening in real-time. Yes, data science has now come to the fore. Are analysts going to lose their jobs? Maybe yes, until they themselves become data scientists. If you want to know what all it takes to become a data scientist, then click here.

Disruption Enmasse – Tectonic Shift in Fourth Industrial Revolution

Cyberspace which was once limited to sending emails or surfing the internet is now a part of our daily lifestyle. Alexa! You are Welcome to the world of Humans. Yes, this is one small example of how integrated technologies are not just playing your favorite songs, switching on-off your geysers, etc. but are also generating data. Yes, data! Data representing your behavioral patterns, spending habits, eating habits, etc. This data let AI learn and be intuitive to your needs. At the same time, this data is helping innovators to design solutions and target intended audiences with greater efficiency. Did market analysts lose their job? Maybe!

Don’t laugh at analysts! Drones are delivering products; the poor delivery boy can become a drone operator but what to do when it is an autonomous drone with GPS technology and AI to deliver your ‘Free Home Delivery”. The software is mimicking humans to do a voice narrative. Maybe this article you are reading is also written by a very intelligent AI. Possibilities have just started to unfold.

Disruption of the old methods is not bad unless the new opportunities are unlocked and humanity graduates to a new level. When computers came, many things got digitized and automated, it opened a new industry where in the beginning the computing machines were manufactured, then came the era of programmers and developers, then we needed printers, routers, scanners, and many such paraphernalia and new jobs were there at the start of 21st century which employed much more people than that were earlier employed. It generated more wealth than the World War – II era and its distribution amongst the people was more democratic than the previous revolution. Big giants like Apple, Microsoft, IBM, AT&T, etc. emerged and monopolized in the beginning, then came the era of new challenges and we saw Google, Space X, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. Many software firms mushroomed and economic distribution to the masses improved.

Fourth Industrial Revolution - New Technologies redefining the way we love, work and communicate - An Article by Rajat Jhingan

The job markets are getting redefined with a formula of ‘high skill – high pay’ and ‘low skill – low pay’. You need to buckle up to join the upper tier.

It was Klaus Schwab the founder of the World Economic Forum who foresaw the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in 2016 and his call to acknowledge, adapt and embrace the new era was well heeded by industries and global economies.

To know about the ‘Disruptive Innovation Theory’ discussion in Harvard Business Review click here.

Paradigm Shift in Fourth Industrial Revolution

Corporate run for profits and wealth generation has got digital wings. New industrial products are now doled out with digital features where integration of processes and technologies are making products more value-driven and user-focused. The products or services are not just commercial objects but an experience to the consumer who has much more choices than the previous generation of customers (not consumers) ever had.

The ecosystem of technologies where after-sales support or even real-time solutions are provided is redefining the markets. Digitization when combined with AI and Big Data is leading to enhanced customization where machine-like efficiency is coupled with human-like experience. Did I mention ‘Chatbots’ and ‘Humanoids’? Are we referring to cyborgs or the use of robots in the army? Era is here, and the ‘Terminator’ movie is now stone-age stuff. Welcome to Industry 4.0

The low-hanging fruits in the Fourth Industrial Revolution are dangling from the branches of Cloud Computing, IoT (Internet of Things), 3-D Printing, Big Data Analysis, Blockchain, Machine Learning, etc. The high-end harvests will come from the fields of Biopharmaceuticals, Quantum Computing, Super Computers, Deep Learning, Autonomous Vehicles, Networked Autonomous Devices, Nanotechnology, etc.

The stakeholders of technology are the tycoons of ‘Industry 4.0’. Money aka the ‘Capital’ will flow towards the innovators, the investors, patent holders, shareholders, and content generators. In the initial phase in which we are now, we see this tug of war between the capital-intensive technology companies and labour-intensive manufacturing industries. The incomes will stagnate for some time until the population itself graduates with the skills relatable to the new era. Highly skilled workers with diversified knowledge will be cherry-picked while the less educated workforce will be struggling even to get manual jobs, as many manual jobs will be and are being now automated.

Data is the New Oil, Even Precious than Black Gold

The hi-tech engine of Industry 4.0 is running on the fuel of bits and bytes called Data. Data is making the world go round. It is making the machines intelligent to do not just mechanical jobs which the humans used to do, but also to analyze, predict, forecast, and mimic human behavior. These algorithms can really tell, which car you are going to buy and most likely which color and variant you may choose. The marketing guy is well equipped with the technological intelligence input and can efficiently sell more cars in a day as his data is more refined and structured. AI has done all this for him.

Data is necessary to analyze, quantify, predict, correct and readjust the business outcomes. The processed data when worked upon becomes the business wisdom in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It helps to set the benchmarks and generate industry insights. It augments the efficiency of the processes and saves not just time and effort but also gives deep insights into the processes where a minor change can result in synergetic impacts.

Technology Enabled Platforms – Changes in Delivery Mechanisms

Products and services are already there, what is coming to redefine its delivery is the ‘platform’. It is enhancing the user-experience with the digital capabilities and maintaining the services and upkeep with the help of data analytics. ‘Demand’ and ‘Supply’ are meeting each other on ‘technology-enabled platforms’ where, ‘on-demand’, ’24X7′, ‘sharing’ and ‘streaming & storage’ are ubiquitously provided services.

Complexities of Change in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Change is a complex phenomenon where there are two groups, one who welcomes and accepts the change. They are the ones who are benefitted from the change. Another group is the status quoist who have to either work hard to adapt or will lose their traditional holdings. In this struggle of the two sides, the change establishes its character.

Neither the fantasy of technology is possible nor the drag of the past can overrule. The fourth Industrial Revolution is surely changing the ways to do things and adding new and never heard before technologies and capabilities. But the fundamentals of human expectations can either act as a booster or as a limitation to technological prowess.

Autonomous bombs and cybersecurity threats are also a reality along with regenerative medical procedures and gene editing. The change will revolutionize and empower both the black and the white sheep. This struggle will get intense and is always incrementally spiral in nature.

Industry 4.0 is an augmentation of human effort.  With First Industrial Revolution we saw the era of colonialism, imperialism, slave trade, mercantilism, the Second Industrial Revolution introduced us to two World Wars and opened the can of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction), and also gave the power of public-owned motorable private transport and wired communication systems.

The Third Industrial Revolution made us venture into the deep space. Human curiosity made them wander into deep space and further. We knocked on and peeked into the world of Quantum Physics, computers solved many complex problems and the processing power of microchips reached every pocket. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are moving from space exploration towards space colonization. From curing the disease, we are moving to gene alteration aimed towards the prevention of disease. From shaping human behavior, we are teaching machines to understand and evolve to be like us, so that we can be free from the mundane routines and move ahead towards much larger, simple yet deep pursuits of human life.

“It’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people.”

– Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple

Fourth Industrial Revolution has already arrived and is changing the way we communicate with each other, manufacture products, deliver services and experience the world around us. Change sometimes is at a very high pace, we can greet it with a greater adaptation and deeper understanding while standing strong on the foundations of the values and ethos we have held so far.

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