Contrary to popular belief, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is not on its way. It’s already here! And as we stand on the brink of fundamental change, technology proves to herald a series of physical, digital and biological innovations. The question is, are you ready for the greatest technological shift the world has ever seen?
What is the 4IR?
According to Madubel, the 4IR is a buzzword first coined by World Economic Forum Chairman, Klaus Schwab. Schwab used this term to describe the phenomenon whereby technology blurs the lines between biological, physical and digital spheres. The word ‘revolution’ therefore implies a radical change that remains in favour of better systems and integrations. History continues to emphasize that this change is often spearheaded by developments in technology and innovation.
Schwab and McKinsey suggest that given the speed and breadth of this new revolution, its full capacity cannot be comprehended. This interdependent and hyper-connected breakthrough has given rise to unprecedented power, knowledge and storage capabilities – all at the mere click of a button.
Examples of the 4IR
Autonomous vehicles continue to improve and evolve at a rapid pace. The advent of self-driving vehicles is a stark example of Industry 4.0 and its technological advances. As a result, humans are no longer limited to standard and automobile forms of transportation. This has also been considered a means of liberation for the disable-bodied community.
Gone are the days of simplistic 2D printing options. 3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, has taken over various industries. This application looks to create physical and tangible objects based on digital 3D drawings. Advanced printing has been applied to several larger objects including wind turbines and medical implants to name a few.
The use of robotics has spanned numerous sectors, for a wide range of tasks. The mechanics of these robots take on a more flexible and adaptive persona as opposed to a more sterile and computerized approach. These structural designs are inspired by complex biological instances where strategies of nature are imitated. Essentially deeming these robots more ‘human-like’.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the main connections between digital and physical applications. IoT is rooted in the relationship between products and services, and various internet platforms. Virtual Realities are another example of IoT and how it has allowed for alternative dimensions to be created.
According to Schwab, synthetic biology is the next step in the 4IR. This development will give rise to customised organisms and advanced DNA writing. The ability to not only edit biology but cell types too proves how the 4IR enrichiches, educates and impacts all circles of life.
The impact of the 4IR
The 4IR has had a significant impact on the global economy. So much so that it has stimulated a new ‘techno-optimism’. This is the belief that innovation and technology will unleash a surge in productivity. In turn economic growth is stimulated.The digital revolution is therefore seen as a critical contributor to economic productivity in any country.
Although technology has promoted economic growth, its negative impacts cannot be ignored. Namely its influence on plummeting employment rates. Evidence of computers replacing numerous jobs is a harsh reality for many technologically-driven countries. With technology performing these jobs with greater accuracy, speed and lower costs in the long-term, one can’t help but wonder the rate in which sectors will fall victim to an automated reality.
In a South African context, the 4IR will prove a huge challenge for our education sector. To remedy this, the SABC looks to keep up with the ever-advancing digitised world. This includes the implementation of advanced technology programmes throughout all syllabi. Upskilling the youth will close this country-wide knowledge gap.
The velocity of communication and technology have augmented our lives in numerous ways. The 4IR, however, is about more than just technology; it is about global community enrichment, adaptive measures and forging healthy and collaborative relationships with technology. Realising this vision will be our greatest challenge and responsibility over the next few years.
- Madubela, A. (2019). Demystifying the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Wits Vuvuzela
- McKinsey & Company (2018) – The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Factories of the Future. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/operations-blog/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-and-the-factories-of-the-future
- SABC (2015). 4IR – A New Challenge in Education System. SABC Education.
- Schwab, K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum.