We’ve seen industrial revolutions in history from the steam engine to electricity to computerization but they have always been driven by a single innovation.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing how we live, work, and communicate. It’s reshaping government, education, healthcare, and commerce almost every aspect of life.
In the future, it can also change the things we value and the way we value them. It can change our relationships, our opportunities, and our identities as it changes the physical and virtual worlds we inhabit and even, in some cases, our bodies.
Changes for Better
New technologies can be powerful agents for good.
Education and access to information can improve the lives of billions of people. Through increasingly powerful computing devices and networks, digital services, and mobile devices, this can become a reality for people around the world, including those in underdeveloped countries.
The social media revolution embodied by Facebook, Twitter, and Tencent has given everyone a voice and a way to communicate instantly across the planet. Today, more than 30% of the people in the world use social media services to communicate and stay on top of world events.
These innovations can create a true global village, bringing billions more people into the global economy. They can bring access to products and services to entirely new markets. They can give people opportunities to learn and earn in new ways, and they can give people new identities as they see potential for themselves that wasn’t previously available.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships.” —Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Online shopping and delivery services—including by drone—are already redefining convenience and the retail experience. The ease of delivery can transform communities, even in remote places, and jump start the economies of small or rural areas.
In the physical realm, advances in biomedical sciences can lead to healthier lives and longer life spans. They can lead to innovations in neuroscience, like connecting the human brain to computers to enhance intelligence or experience a simulated world. Imagine all that robot power with human problem-solving skills.
Advances in automotive safety through Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies can reduce road fatalities and insurance costs, and carbon emissions. Autonomous vehicles can reshape the living spaces of cities, architecture, and roads themselves, and free up space for more social and human-centered spaces.
Digital technology can liberate workers from automatise tasks, freeing them to concentrate on addressing more complex business issues and giving them more autonomy. It can also provide workers with radically new tools and insights to design more creative solutions to previously insurmountable problems.
Changes for Worse
However, while the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the power to change the world positively, we have to be aware that the technologies can have negative results if we don’t think about how they can change us.
We build what we value. This means we need to remember our values as we’re building with these new technologies. For example, if we value money over family time, we can build technologies that help us make money at the expense of family time. In turn, these technologies can create incentives that make it harder to change that underlying value.
People have a deep relationship with technologies. They are how we create our world, and we have to develop them with care. More than ever, it’s important that we begin right.
We have to win this race between the growing power of the technology, and the growing wisdom with which we manage it.
We don’t want to learn from mistakes. —Max Tegmark, Life 3.0
Biotechnology can lead to controversial advances such as designer babies, gene drives (changing the inherited traits of an entire species), or implants required to become competitive candidates for schools or jobs. Innovations in robotics and automation can lead to lost jobs, or at least jobs that are very different and value different skills.
Artificial intelligence, robotics, bio engineering, programming tools, and other technologies can all be used to create and deploy weapons.