Shifting our thinking within the Fourth Industrial Revolution

I always enjoy selected parts of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos and in this year’s #WEF18 agenda, it certainly had its good points. I don’t attend, I listen and read.

Overhaul though, I was a little disappointed, as it lacked the real leadership insights you come to expect, strong personalities did not seem to shine through this year from the speakers and panelists. They gave fragmented insights for the future, mostly seemed to be retrospective, caught in the present, or simply trying to catch up.

I certainly felt the WEF theme for this meeting, of “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” showed through, actually more re-affirmed as fractured. We seem all to be still working on what the future will look like, as it is in danger of being fractured even more before it coalesces around new directions and order.

Some suggest we should allow the future to just simply unfold but I don’t share this view, our future does need to be shaped in so many ways but in what ways and what to allow to “simply evolve” is a very complex question and we are not getting many cohesive answers. So, it continues where it continues, based on individual perspective. The future is never easy to map out but you would expect more answers than questions

Yet what this forum provided, was in its bringing me back to refocus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It helped deliver a far sharper focus on its impact, potential, and scope beyond just manufacturing. Now, this was the major ‘bright spot’ of future collaborative potential for us all. Also the growing concensus around the skills and future of work

There was a number of sessions held at Davos, relating to this 4IR. More importantly, a release of a number of reports or white papers on the growing impact of this revolution. Dr. Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF also released his second book on the subject “Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

To considerably help us all, the WEF have been providing their transformation maps, that fit within the excitement of my discovering knowledge maps recently, from my Siemens visit, in December

The two transformation maps on this fourth industrial revolution shown below, really do a great job of capturing the huge potential of this movement. These clarify the ‘touch points’ and complexity.

The second one is taking Dr.Schwab’s book of areas he discusses that have deeper impact and meaning for us all. He provides the broader issues we need to address as we go through this Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I achieved a breakthrough in my thinking in listening and reading about this Revolution

I had looked at 4IR with the classic Industrial perspective where autonomous manufacturing, seamless connections of value chains, a growing connection of supply chains work within supplier ecosystems were all leading to new value-added services and the potential for business model innovation will emerge from all this connecting up. No, it is far more complex and all-embracing.  Now those manufacturing solutions in themselves are significant, complex and challenging but something more emerged and this really does transform how we should be thinking about this revolution.

It was nicely put by Joe Kaeser, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Siemens AG writing an article for the WEF, where he remarked “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not just about technology or business. It is about society” He observes, quite rightly “software helps optimize every process and every task whether performed by humans or machines.

He was commenting more specifically about the breakthrough of the “digital twin” that can allow us to design, simulate and test sophisticated products in the virtual domain before even taking them into a first physical prototype or even setting them up in the physical world.

Now stop a minute, we can potentially see the virtual world and physical world as “twins” way beyond “just” the manufacturing world. Cyber-physical systems can leap even further, across so much that needs mapping in society. Data can give us the raw material to design our virtual world, to model them. I want to come back to this in another post. The real value is moving from ‘just’ physical to digital in new combinations. That holds exciting promise.

Let’s think about that a little more.

The whole success of this fourth industrial revolution is about running on information we can turn into knowledge. It is what we gain in new insights, in different perspectives, in modeling alternatives or “what ifs” comes from the data we can extract. This applies to everything.

As we connect up across industries, across society we can get closer to knowing the problems, then we can start searching for the solutions in potentially radically new ways. The potential of the 4IR is going to advance innovation across all sorts of fields benefiting society. Data is the new currency for understanding.

This data understanding combined with computing power and analytics can allow for lower cost genome sequencing technology. We only know the DNA of 14% of all the estimated species of plants and animals on land and this can lead to a real potential value to build the biological system potential and for human-related uses. As we connect increasingly everything up and use the ‘raw’ power of technology for example, life sciences can potentially ‘explode’ from this growing understanding. It will also have huge impacts on agriculture, medicine, and bio-based industries.. Having a “collective biological intelligence” has huge economic and social value.

The continued connecting up of billions of people and machines on mobile devices or through sensors with this unprecedented processing power and ‘raw data’ knowledge access opens up much. Technology breakthroughs in robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology, material science, 3-D printing all built from the IoT world we are constructing. It will be the growing combination of the physical, virtual and the human, applying intellectual capital that takes us (potentially) way beyond ‘just’ efficiency and productivity gains. It will impact us all in ways we have not yet fathomed out.

So, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is actually a Society Revolution.

We are not just connecting up machines and factories we are connecting up society and this becomes the real difference than in the past revolutions. The first revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production.The second revolution used electric power to create mass production and changes in the way would live (and work) after dark.

The third revolution fused electronics and information technology to automate production and allow us to enter a digital age.

The fourth revolution is building on this third, it is bringing together Fusion”, within our technologies that blend this physical and digital world we are all entering. It is grappling with a new geographical scope, it is bringing solutions into the equation to meet the velocity and speed that are happening and through its connecting up, massive system change. Knowledge becomes unlimited or limited to our processing power

The ability to harness all the technology breakthroughs can transform what we do and how we do it. It goes beyond a machine connecting to a network and sending back data. It will shift our lives but it will require a complete re-think on how we build future skills, nurture talent. Knowledge capital is going to be the biggest capital winner, alongside innovation and intellectual capital. It will be our ability, as humans to take physical and intellectual capital and turn it into new knowledge, through faster and faster innovation. It is how we connect, learn and share information will lead to fresh insights and new discoveries.

Of course, it will be a very uncomfortable journey I fear.

So much of our known world will become disrupted, it will challenge society, it will bring about new behavior. We will from this grapple with new solutions that will be designed differently, will shift existing market dynamics in unexpected ways and deliver very different concepts, products, and services that continue to link up and connect, to give us a different expectation of everyday life.

What also struck me was how platforms and ecosystems really come out of applying the fourth industrial revolution. I see this strong connection between these three in new forms of business but also how society will reform. We are seeing the converge at present but how will these diverge is going to challenge institutions, governments, our present national borders and where and how we live. Being fully connected-up will teach us to be adaptive, agile and alert. Nothing will stand still, we are heading to a fluid world.

This will have a huge impact on our lives, far bigger than we can presently appreciate

We will be challenged far more than the effects of the past three revolutions. Ownership, privacy, consumption patterns, where we reside, the balance between work and leisure will fuse even more. Yet as Dr. Schwab asks “will it diminish some of our quintessential human capacities, such as compassion and cooperation”.

What about communities, will we find time to think of others or get further into our own bubbles. Where does time to reflect, to seek out other humans to engage in face-to-face conversations come out in this re-alignment? Will we form around different “common” values and objectives or become even more self-absorbed?

What Dr. Schwab rightly points out “Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.” That must be worrying, who is going to think through this new highly connected world, if our leaders have no time?

I have some work ahead to translate this shift in my thinking on the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Over the coming days, I will be exploring and relating to all the reports and white papers that have been written for the WEF meeting that relate to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. One discussion certainly stood out for me, from this 2018 Davos meeting. It is one that I will attempt to ‘translate’ in what I heard, that gave me great optimism that the fourth industrial revolution is going to be very different. It lifted my spirits.

Firstly I want to absorb more of the why this session caught my attention. Until I think about this, all I can say is “welcome, one and all, to the fourth revolution that might be called “Industrial” but it is actually Societal in its impact”. It ushers in a new paradigm, even though ‘paradigm’ is an overused word but in this case, it is the right one.

We are in the center of the digitally connected storm and technology will evolve in unimaginable ways. I feel we all need to hold on, it is going to be a bumpy ride for all of us. As we become even more digitally connected,  fusing technology with our the physical and virtual worlds we are challenging much of what we presently do. Skills will need to change but that’s another post to come.

The outcome of this fourth industrial revolution is one of where having the knowledge and understanding gives the real potential of new business and social models, ones that will continue to disrupt what we know. Will it fracture society or allow us to solve complex problems?

 

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