Internet of Things
The Fourth Industrial Revolution ‘is already here and it is a matter of survival’
The pace of technological innovation will pose enormous challenges to people, companies and economies, changing the way we learn, work, live and stay alive; Despite the proliferation of technology, the human factor will remain significant, particularly when it comes to setting rules, norms and standards; The world will have to deal with major ethical questions relating to the impact of the spread of technology
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates The Fourth Industrial Revolution the rapid proliferation of technologies that will have broad and deep impact on all aspects of life is already upon us, raising profound questions about the future, including major ethical challenges. At the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda 2015, which opened today, technology thought leaders warned of the impending challenges posed by innovations in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics and 3D printing, among others.
“Imagine being strapped on the front of a locomotive and going through a tunnel,” said Bernard Meyerson, Chief Innovation Officer and Vice-President of IBM Corporation in the United States. “You had better know if the light ahead is the light at end of the tunnel or an oncoming train. It is that kind of situation.” Added Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia: “The new industrial revolution differs from previous ones because the rate of growth is exponential. We are going to see an exponential increase in the power of the chip. Chip-based industrial technologies will grow faster and faster.”
There will certainly be major advantages. “Every previous industrial revolution has ridden on the backs of those in indentured servitude,” reckoned Justine Cassell, Associate Vice-Provost, Technology Strategy and Impact at Carnegie Mellon University in the US. “With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, robots are playing the roles that they should be and removing people from roles as servants.” But “while there will be no servers, there may be no jobs either,” quipped Ilves.
Humankind is moving “from physicality to a data-based world”, Cassell observed. This will mean work involving distributed teams, distance employment and the dynamic collection and exchange of data about ourselves. “We will need to train people in an entirely new set of 21stcentury skills, which are in fact the oldest skills communications, collaboration, empathy, respect and how to overcome cultural boundaries.” Ilves advised: “People who can retool themselves had better get to work now. This has major implications for education. People of a certain age will have a harder time. Countries will either take off or fall behind.”
The business opportunities raised by this new revolution are significant, said Lee Sang-Yup, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). He noted that businesses are now doing away with quarterly reporting and are instead reporting their financial positions monthly because the pace of change is so fast and one rival could eclipse another practically overnight.
The advent of this new industrial revolution is raising an enormous range of questions, including ethical challenges that will be difficult to answer. Consider issues relating to self-driving cars. Should they be programmed to avoid running into a group of pedestrians when the alternative is hitting a wall and possibly injuring the driver? There are many other ethical and security challenges, including privacy and data integrity, as well as the differential between those who have access and know how to use the technologies and those who do not.
This underscores the fact that no matter how pervasive technology becomes, there will always be the human factor. Research and development operations are not likely to be replaced by robots, Meyerson noted. Humans will need to come up with the framework of rules, laws, standards and norms to govern the new tech landscape. People will need to promote a culture of collaboration.
“For everybody who is part of this industrial revolution, the reality is that this is happening now and if we don’t have a say in how it goes, it will end up with multiple trainwrecks,” said Andrew D. Maynard, Professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, US. “We are really bad at this. We have to be more trans-disciplinary than we are. If you don’t have that coalition, you won’t have the understanding about these technologies and how they will impact society who will be harmed and how.”
“Data is the new oil,” said Meyerson. The key is for people, countries and companies to come to terms with the new industrial revolution and take advantage of the opportunities. “The reality of life is that if you refine it, it will power the world; if you don’t it will be dark and toxic.” There is very little time to adjust. “The revolution is underway. It is already here and it is a matter of survival, not convenience,” he concluded.
The Summit on the Global Agenda 2015 brings together over 900 thought leaders and experts from business, government, civil society, academia and media who are among the members of the Forum’s network of over 80 Global Agenda Councils. They are focused on finding innovative solutions and approaches to key global challenges, such as achieving inclusive growth and addressing climate change and natural resources security.