The Fourth Industrial Revolution is being driven by a staggering range of new technologies that are blurring the boundaries between people, the internet and the physical world. It’s a convergence of the digital, physical and biological spheres. Some call it the fourth industrial revolution, or industry 4.0, but whatever you call it, it represents the combination of technological convergence, cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, and the Internet of Systems.
It’s a transformation in the way we live, work and relate to one another in the coming years, affecting entire industries and economies, and even challenging our notion of what it means to be human. In this fourth revolution, we are facing a range of new technologies that combine the physical, digital and biological worlds. These new convergence between bio-, info-, nano- and cogno- technologies technologies will impact all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenge our ideas about what it means to be human.
Our understanding of this postindustrial world is inadequate. The traditional job market is changing and so is the nation state. Solid economic and political structures of the past are deteriorating under the current technological development. In order for politics to be meaningful and for human rights and democracy to survive and thrive, we need to understand the greater patterns in this development.
Digital products and services, social media, mobile apps, etc., have changed our everyday lives in less than a decade. In fact, most of us use technologies on a daily basis that were wild science fiction 40-50 years ago when computer science first became established in Western universities. For most citizens and policymakers, the dramatic impact of the still exponentially growing information and communication technologies (ICT) is only starting to become apparent.
Today, a convergence between the bio-, info-, nano- and cogno- technologies develops the living and intelligent technologies of tomorrow. Democracy, politics, rule of law, human rights, the market economy, capitalism, the creation of money, the banking system, and even our schools and local communities are products of the industrial age and its technologies. As individuals we have learned to navigate the industrial economy and as societies we can somewhat control and define it with politics and legislation. In the industrial economy, more was better – but now this is not always the case. The developed world is sick from overeating, while greater productivity leads to cheaper goods and greater consumption, which squanders Earth’s resources ever faster and fosters a wasteful, consumption-based economy. Instead, a future economy would strive to provide a world of plenty, with virtually no waste.
In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
Technological change is so rapid that it has out-stripped political and legal frameworks, changing the way the economy or even society works before the law can catch up. The converging technologies will accelerate this process into something we have difficulty imagining. And as yet there are no global institutions that can handle this transformation.
The grand narratives which used to keep societies together – religion, nation and class – are losing their power to guide and explain the world, and are sometimes used for the support of totalitarian regimes. In fact the only grand narrative that has survived is “the free market”: it can provide consumer goods efficiently, but it is incapable of solving any of our current problems. If anything, it fuels them.
Within and between the nations we see indicators of the current transition. Among these indicators are the working poor, under employment, lack of privacy due to abuse of big data, challenges concerning secure and sustainable energy systems, international taxation issues regarding corporations, a rapidly growing and mainly speculative financial market, increased consumption of psycho-pharmaceuticals, and a radically transforming and diminishing job market mainly due to automation and digitization.
To preserve sustainable economies, human dignity, Human Rights, democracy, and social calm these issues must be taken to the forefront of practical national and international politics. In a world were knowledge is viewed as an indisputable asset for economic growth, this same knowledge must be put to work to understand the current transformation of the global economy and community and to address and develop sustainable and desirable paths forwards. An underlying theme is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses and politics. A continued belief in the narrative that a free market and the nation state will resolve our current dilemmas is naïve. We need to recognize reality as it is and not as it once was.
With the right political, legal and economic structures and institutions and with the best possible implementation of the convergence between bio-, info-, nano- and cogno- technologies technologies, we can shape the world to meet our highest hopes. We have to develop visions for inclusive and sustainable societies, while recognizing how the new technologies are in the process of changing the very foundation of the human condition.