The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond was the central theme of the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) that took place earlier this year in Davos, Switzerland. The theme was nicely explained by Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman, in the lead article of a recently published Foreign Affairs Anthology on the subject.
Dr. Schwab positions the Fourth Industrial Revolution within the historical context of three previous industrial revolutions. The First, - in the last third of the 18th century, - introduced new tools and manufacturing processes based on steam and water power, ushering the transition from hand-made goods to mechanized, machine-based production. The Second, - a century later, - revolved around steel, railroads, cars, chemicals, petroleum, electricity, the telephone and radio, leading to the age of mass production. The Third, - starting in the 1960s, - saw the advent of digital technologies, computers, the IT industry, and the automation of process in just about all industries.
“Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century,” he noted. “It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”