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What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?


It was in these Swiss mountains that theworld was first introduced to the phrase the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,"and it’s been a hot topic among academics, politicians and business leadersever since. But what exactly does it mean?

The term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” was coinedby the founder of the World Economic Forum,a former professornamed Klaus Schwab.Schwab wrote a book with that titleto describe an era marked by a:Let’s break that down.Technologies like artificial intelligence,autonomous vehicles or the Internet of Things are becoming ingrained in our day-to-daylives, and even our bodies.

Think of voice-activated virtual assistants,face ID recognition or healthcare sensors.Schwab first presented his visionof the Fourth Industrial Revolution at the World Economic Forum’s annualmeeting here in Davos in 2016.But to understand the idea, we need to go much furtherback in history to industrial revolution number one.The First Industrial Revolution startedin Great Britain around 1760 and spread to Europe and NorthAmerica through the early 1800s.It was powered by a majorinvention, the steam engine.The result?New manufacturing processes, the creationof factories and a booming textiles industry.

From the late 1800s, the Second IndustrialRevolution was marked by mass production and new industries likesteel, oil and electricity.The light bulb, the telephone and internal combustionengine were a few of the major inventions of this era.The Third Industrial Revolution, sometimesknown as the Digital Revolution,occurred in the second halfof the twentieth century.In just a few decades we saw the invention of thesemiconductor, the personal computer and the internet.So what separates the FourthIndustrial Revolution from the Third?Experts say the main difference is that technologyis merging more and more with humans’ lives and that technological changeis happening faster than ever.

Consider this: It took 75 years for 100million users to adopt the telephone.Instagram signed up 100 million users in just two years,while Pokemon Go caught that amount in one month.3D printing is just one example of fast-pacedtechnology in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.The industry has gone from a business ideato big business, with 3D printer shipments expected to increase from just under200,000 in 2015 to 2.4 million in 2020.Today, you can have a hip replacement from a3D-printed bone or use a 3D-printed bionic arm.Talk about blurring the line betweenhumans and technology, right?This new era of technologyis driving a lot of innovation.You can see in this chart the number of patentsrelated to the Fourth Industrial Revolution,for things like 3D printing or AI, has beenclimbing up and up since early 2000.Organizations are embracing new technologiesto make their businesses more efficient,similar to how they embraced the steam engineduring the First Industrial Revolution.But some companies, and governments, are strugglingto keep up with the fast pace of technological change.Research shows innovators, investors andshareholders benefit the most from innovation.The risk is that the Fourth IndustrialRevolution is making inequality,which is already abig issue, even worse.

One study found billionaireshave driven almost 80 percent of the 40 main breakthroughinnovations over the last 40 years.That’s a problem when the richestone percent of householdsalready own nearly halfof the world’s wealth.Experts warn we are in a “winner-takes-all” economy,where high-skilled workers are rewarded with high pay,and the rest ofworkers are left out.Studies confirm technologieslike AI will eliminate some jobs and create demand for new skillsthat many workers don’t have.Privacy concerns are another issueas the Fourth Industrial Revolution turns every companyinto a tech company.Industries from food to retailto banking are going digital,and they’re collecting a lot more datafrom their customers along the way.Users are starting to worry that companiesknow too much about their private digital lives.The World Economic Forum says a majorityof leaders don’t have confidence their organizations are ready for the changes associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.With tech changing fast everyday - it’s time to catch up.


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