With electricity came mass manufacturing and even more movement toward cities. Electricity allowed food products to last longer and extended the potential workday by providing cost-effective and reliable lighting solutions.
The third Industrial Revolution came with the advent of the digital age. With rapid communications technologies, business processes flowed more quickly. The shape of the modern office changed, with more workers using remote technologies and helping to break down international borders. Today, a new revolution is on the horizon. Like the availability of electricity, the exponential speed of technological development is disrupting nearly every industry at every point. New technologies change everything from governance to production.
What Is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
If the first Industrial Revolution revolved around steam power, the second electricity and the third digital technologies, what is the driving force behind the fourth? Unlike with previous massive change movements, there is no single technology driving the change that is the Fourth Revolution. Instead, a variety of rapidly evolving technologies are hitting the market simultaneously. With artificial intelligence, robotics, the “internet of things,” autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, biotechnology and other bleeding-edge tech niches developing at lightning speed, disruption and revolution are coming from a dozen different directions at once.
What Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution Mean for Labor?
Automation is now a reality in every sector and every industry. From self-checkout lines to autonomous cars, many low-skilled jobs are falling by the wayside. While that might lead to dramatic social inequalities, it could also lead to more safe jobs available to the general public. After all, every revolution has come along with its share of doomsayers, and more jobs have been the inevitable result of technological advancements. Along with these advances come improved quality of living in countries where technology is readily available.
Consider how technology is streamlining errands today. Booking a cab, making a reservation, paying bills and dozens of other tasks that used to eat up hours every day now happen in minutes using mobile devices. The health care industry is a great example of how technology disruption may lead to more jobs and better outcomes.
Countries that are only now developing massive health systems to serve their populations enjoy a distinct advantage over countries with established processes. Mobile technologies allow doctors to reach patients in remote areas, and investment in mobile is where emerging markets have placed their infrastructure dollars. By creating flexible and agile systems, these countries are poised to deliver exceptional health care at a distance and a reasonable price point. Given the struggles in developed nations, it is easy to see how technology may help improve quality of life without removing net jobs from the market.
Get Ready for Surprises
No matter how well-informed or in the know someone is, the reality of this revolution is that surprise is part of the recipe. Technology is advancing so quickly that promising new options are in development before that last wave even hits shelves. This could leave major market players struggling to catch up to the more agile maneuverings of new entrants.
New players can disrupt established brands by delivering value faster, better or at a lower price point. When someone else has developed the wheel, it takes a lot less to develop an axle. The demand is already defined, so it merely takes a new company to come along and improve the value proposition.
Businesses that react quickly to changing customer expectations, build product enhancements as part of the product development process, enjoy collaborative innovation across industries and adjust organizational methodologies to better respond to these changes will be ready to ride the Industrial Revolution wave to its conclusion. Of course, that conclusion will likely be ongoing developments, so it is critical to build these concepts into corporate culture for the long term.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution Disrupts Governments
The workforce doesn’t begin and end with private sector companies. Governments are often the largest employers in smaller economic locations, and governments will also be affected by changes in technology. Some of these impacts are obvious. Faster development means the need for regulatory change, but few governments have the capacity to respond as quickly as the technology. For example, when drones first entered the public sector, what if any regulations impacted deployment for business purposes? While the FAA is the agency responsible for handling drone traffic, the agency had no systems in place when the technology first went live. Years later, drone use is still held up in regulatory tangles, even when this technology could dramatically reduce shipping costs.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will change the job market forever, but not necessarily in the negative. While some low-skilled jobs will disappear forever, it is important to remember that those who grow up with technology are often well versed in its use. Needed skills change and educational systems adapt to provide workers with the necessary skills to drive economic development. Every past Industrial Revolution has created more jobs, and there is no reason to suppose the Fourth will be any different.
Technology continues to advance, and with it come changes to workflows and processes. The first Industrial Revolution moved people away from farms and toward cities when water and steam-powered production methods led to the first factories.