The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) was the central theme of the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) that took place a year ago in Davos, Switzerland. It continued to play a prominent role in the recently concluded 2017 annual meeting. Coming to grips with the impact of the fourth industrial revolution was among the top leadership priorities discussed at this year’s meeting.
Over the past year, Klaus Schwab, - WEF founder and executive chairman, - has described his vision for the fourth industrial revolution in a number of articles as well as a book on the subject. Dr. Schwab positions the 4IR within the historical context of three previous industrial revolutions. The First, - starting in the last third of the 18th century, - introduced new tools and manufacturing processes based on steam and water power. The Second, - a century later, - saw the advent of steel, oil, electricity, mass production and associated inventions including the telephone, light bulbs phonographs and cars. The Third, - starting in the middle of the last century, - has brought us digital technologies, computers, the IT industry, and the automation of processes in just about all industries.
The 4IR builds on our ongoing digital revolution. It “entails nothing less than a transformation of humankind,” wrote Dr. Schwab in his book’s introduction “We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, what I consider to be the fourth industrial revolution is unlike anything humankind has experienced before…”
“Consider the unlimited possibilities of having billions of people connected by mobile devices, giving rise to unprecedented processing power, storage capabilities and knowledge access. Or think about the staggering confluence of emerging technology breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing, to name a few. Many of these innovations are in their infancy, but they are already reaching an inflection point in their development as they build on and amplify each other in a fusion of technologies across the physical, digital and biological worlds.”