We are entering into a brand new industrial era, with this one being our fourth. New emerging technologies are either improving or replacing old ones yet again. In this time we will see not just robots and machines replacing jobs previously held by humans, but also new novel automation processes that could reach as far as law.
Industry 4.0 in Vogue
The fourth industrial revolution (4IR), also known as Industry 4.0, refers to the myriad of new technologies that are disrupting every major industry and sector in the world, and in some cases, industries of their own. It’s an amalgamation of physical, digital and biological worlds, fusing cutting edge technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), genetic engineering, blockchain, 3D printing and quantum computing amongst many others.
According to experts around the world, these technologies have already begun to, or will be, underpinning many of the existing technologies and industries we have today, if not make them obsolete entirely. These technologies are proliferating into almost every sector and industry on the planet, and are creating a symbiosis that has never been witnessed or experienced before.
Though it’s not just industries and institutions that are being swept up in the 4IR maelstrom; these technologies have bled into our everyday lives. While they may not be completely mainstream-ready like the World Wide Web or even virtual reality, they are most certainly on their way.
Big Tech, Big Changes
IoT, big data, cloud computing and 5G networks are already having gigantic impacts on the lives we live. These technologies encompass perhaps the ‘engine, oil and fuel’ of the fourth industrial revolution, especially given their widespread adoption.
Speaking with Arunkumar Krishnakumar, an investor, prolific entity in the world of BigTech, and Author of the book “Quantum Computing and Blockchain in Business”, we took a look at the some of the issues facing the evolution of 4IR technologies.
Krishnakumar begins by highlighting what he thinks is the most crucial factor in all of this, data, he writes:
“Industry 4.0 relies on data ubiquity. Technologies such as AI, IoT, Blockchain, and Quantum Computing rely on data. Data, in turn, relies on mobile internet. The introduction of 5G will be the much-needed oil in the system. “
Being an advocate of technological-inclusion for the world, he sees the growth in internet users in Asia, which is dominated by both India and China, as great news for Industry 4.0. He believes that once this increase in internet access amongst rural populations, or “the last mile” as he describes it, has connected more of the world, then that is when 4IR technologies will be at their most impactful.
Across the board, industries like manufacturing, automotive vehicles, logistics, finance and farming are not only in the midst of 4IR transformation, but they are also pioneering. Blockchain technologies appear to be finding themselves favourable amongst financial institutions and industries that are reliant on supply chain and data analytics; IoT technologies, as well as AI technologies, are becoming mainstays in the agriculture sector as well as being built into smart cars and vehicle production lines.
One of the latest to join the all-star team of disruptors is 5G, a technology purported to beef up the performance of the aforementioned technologies, especially in sectors with automation technology implemented.
Though the typical knee-jerk response is the fear of people losing their livelihoods, which does indeed unfortunately occur; it is not always doom and gloom. With every industrial revolution, new and exciting enterprises and careers are also created, though even this can prove troublesome.
In a 2019 discussion report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), it is noted that the technological displacement of workers has indeed been something of a historical fact, though that doesn’t paint the full picture. According to the WEF, the problem is that there will actually be an abundance of new work available, and fears that there won’t be enough skilled workers in these fields.
KPMG released a 2020 report titled “The 2020 Fourth Industrial Revolution Benchmark”, detailing present sentiments and projects from around the world. Perhaps one of the largest takeaways from the report suggests that overall, almost half of all companies surveyed didn’t feel prepared for technological change, or have stated that establishing the correct staff/skill capability is their biggest challenge. Though 4 in 10 companies felt that they have the staff ready to take on the new tech.
IOA Africa is one such establishment that in its recent report, comprehensively broke down the requirements for 4IR to blossom in the nation. Notably, the report concludes that there are numerous reasons for the lack of 4IR preparation, highlighting the lack of technical infrastructure, a lack of relevant education curriculum, and educational stakeholders failing to collaborate effectively on the matter.
That said, institutions, governments and educators are well aware of the fact, with some of the most well established academic institutions in the world rolling out University degrees, courses and internships to foster the next generation of 4IR workers. For example, both Oxford University (UK), Stanford University (USA) are offering blockchain and AI courses respectively.
Amongst those are many others who, in anticipation of the 4IR future, are readying to provide industries with at least enough workers to support the 4IR industry.
Arunkumar notes that of course, these technologies also have some significant challenges ahead before they land in the mainstream. Although they’re influencing our daily and future lives, these technologies are still quite young, regardless of how fast they seem to grow.
“Many of these technologies have challenges before they can go mainstream too. For instance, AI needs to overcome data quality and data ethics challenges. Blockchain needs to get governance and controls to avoid retail misuse. Quantum computing has its own challenges with stability (of qubits), we are at least a decade away from mainstream adoption. The IoT infrastructure we have is vulnerable to new-age cyber threats.”
To paint the full picture, he offers the example of implementing mobile payment infrastructure on to roadside flower shops in India; before doing so, he is clear that the owner is aware of the cyber risks involved and if possible, are mitigated. Otherwise, according to Arunkumar: “...data ubiquity can become a threat.” He concludes:
“In essence, for Industry 4.0 to impact the layman, we will need to overcome technological limitations and create the required controls to protect consumers.”
Right Revolution, Right Time?
Although the line has been blurred with regard to when the transition from our present industrial state to 4IR began, it is again important to note that it is already happening and is in an extremely nascent state.
Though, with the world pressing the ‘digitization’ button more than ever, it is anticipated that these technologies will be dominant forces for decades to come, though it would be of little surprise that at some point, something else will come along to replace even these incredible achievements.
Perhaps in 2020, there has never been a better time to go full-steam ahead with 4IR technologies. Early-adoption may have it’s risks and even disappointments, but it also spurs on the rest of the competition out there to become more accessible, simplified, cheaper, efficient and future-proof.
With more and more companies, investors and institutions getting behind these efforts, the sooner that 4IR will be realised in all its glory, the sooner the world as we know will transform once again.