The Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming: are you ready?
THE first industrial revolution, in the 18th and 19th centuries, involved a change from mostly agrarian societies to greater industrialisation as a consequence of the steam engine and other technological developments.
The second industrial revolution was driven by electricity and involved expansion of industries and mass production as well as technological advances.
The third industrial revolution, sometimes referred to as the digital age, centred on the development of computers and information technology (IT).
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is growing out of the third but is considered by many to be the dawn of a new era rather than a continuation.
The main difference between previous revolutions and the fourth is the pace of change; breakthroughs are happening at a rate unprecedented in history because of the robust development we are experiencing in technological advancements.
According to Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum and author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the new age is differentiated by the speed of technological breakthroughs, the pervasiveness of scope and the tremendous impact of new systems.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is driven by the merging of physical and digital technologies.
By gathering data from machines and robots, companies are able to optimise their operations to increase speed and yield productivity and performance depend increasingly on intelligence.
With recent advances in artificial intelligence, companies are now able to envisage autonomous operations, where machines, and even entire facilities, can run themselves.
In an environment where technology is having a transformative effect on industry after industry, companies that don’t start preparing now for the Fourth Industrial Revolution not only risk falling behind but also risk passing up the opportunity to influence the future.
Industrial companies that invest in digital technologies are not only achieving significantly higher uptime, speed and yield, they are laying the groundwork for the application of advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence.
In the upcoming years, essential infrastructure, such as the power grid and the water supply, as well as industry and our transport networks, will increasingly be controlled and operated by autonomous systems.
On the one hand, this will bring tremendous benefits in terms of avoiding outages and shortages, and freeing-up humans from dull, dangerous and degrading work.
On the other, the workforce and society as a whole will have to adapt to a new industrial landscape, where people work alongside robots and machines.
Education and training will have to change fundamentally. For businesses in Africa, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a tremendous opportunity to raise their competitiveness globally and to play a more important, decisive role in shaping the future of this country.
For government, it offers innovative solutions to pressing infrastructure challenges and new possibilities for tackling societal issues related to education and employment.
The fear in the minds of many is that technology and automation, in particular, is going to take away jobs and deprive people of employment. All previous industrial revolutions created many more jobs than were ever lost; this is primarily through the creation of new industries and business models.
There is no reason to think the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be different, especially when one considers that the countries which have most readily adopted automation and robotics – notably China, Germany, Japan and South Korea – stand out for the competitiveness of their industries and their low levels of unemployment.
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Article prepared by: Aysha Osman
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