May 2020 Guest Opinion: The 4th Industrial Revolution

May 11, 2020

What does the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) mean to you, your industry, and indeed, the world? Have you given thought to how it will evolve and is there an industry that has been truly revolutionized to date?

As we sat and pondered the big questions, in-between zoom calls, we concluded it may be better to ask someone with researched answers…Dr. Jonathan Reichental, a proven teacher – and someone who has a knack of breaking down complex technologies into digestible lessons – shares his thoughts on the revolution now taking place.

Dr. Jonathan Reichental is the CEO of Human Future, a global business and technology education, advisory, and investment firm. He is the former Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the City of Palo Alto, and a multiple award-winning technology leader whose 30-year career has spanned both the private and public sectors. In 2017, he was named one of the top 100 CIOs in the world and in 2016 he was named a top influential CIO in the United States.

Jonathan, what does the term 4th Industrial Revolution mean to you, and which industries have you seen it having a significant impact on?
This is an important topic for people to understand so that they can build and maintain businesses and enterprises in the 21st century. We’ve had three industrial revolutions already over the past 300 years, and each one changed the world in a very significant way; the world that went into each industrial revolution was different from the one on the other side of that revolution. For example, take the third industrial revolution, which really is the information technology revolution, think about how the internet and digitalization continue to change the world.

Now we enter a fourth industrial revolution, where the impact will be larger, and more significant. Over the next few decades, we will see a greater transformation to humanity and our businesses than we’ve seen in the entire life of human civilization.

The 4th Industrial Revolution is defined by a period of great change, and significant adoption of technologies and new ways of living. As new technologies and ideas emerge, they have four dimensions:

Scope: deep and wide changes on a global scale.
Impact: what these technologies result in.
Velocity: the speed of change – transformation won’t take 10-15 years any longer, but six months.
Convergence: It won’t just be AI on its own, or Blockchain on its own; the real transformation will come when these technologies intersect and work together.

“It won’t just be AI on its own, or Blockchain on its own; the real transformation will come when these technologies intersect and work together.”

Which industry has been ‘revolutionized’ to date, fundamentally changing how it operates?
Transportation is one of the areas of society that is being revolutionized. Just looking at one subset, automotive, you can see how transformation is happening very quickly. New cars are designed differently using Digital Twins, allowing the car to be built virtually before we ever do anything physically. Additionally, we can now go on to drive that car on any road, in any condition, around the world, and understand what parts we need and what materials we need, well before it is built.

Also, there are of course Autonomous Vehicles (AVs); AV driving will change the nature of cars in so many ways. Ask yourself, what will we do within cars when we don’t have to drive them?

We are then transferring from carbon-based transportation to renewable, with our automobile industry moving very quickly towards electric vehicles. Also, ride-hailing, we see the emergence of ride-hailing on a global scale. And finally, we are trending towards the end of car ownership, where vehicles, in general, will just be on-demand as opposed to owned.

And what does the 4IR mean for the way global economies operate?
Think about the role that transportation has in every society and the high number of occupations based on driving. The number of jobs will be displaced by AVs, effectively displacing a whole industry. The negative consequences are quite significant but there is, of course, an upside; based on data, AVs will reduce death and injury, and the use of EVs will reduce the carbon footprint, benefiting the entire planet.

Which are the most ‘disruptive’ technologies that are driving the 4th Industrial Revolution?
Although there is a very long list, I have selected three:

AI: there is no doubt it must be on the list. It becomes a way in which human activity is augmented in every respect: the way we live, work, and play.

Digitalization: the digitalization of the world is not trivial, and we have so far to go still…so much of the world’s industry is still analog-based, using a lot of paperwork, and bringing the downsides of bureaucracy.

Automation: in general, it is an important and disruptive characteristic of the 4th Industrial Revolution. In automation, digitalization plays a part, as does robotics, and it leads to the emergence of the Internet of Things, and in turn, data-driven decisions.

“AI: there is no doubt it must be on the list. It becomes a way in which human activity is augmented in every respect: the way we live, work, and play.”

How do you think the increased sophistication and wider adoption of AI will change the characteristics of the 4th Industrial Revolution?
If you go back to the four characteristics I shared, AI is a magnifier for each one. You throw AI into any one of those dimensions and it creates a magnifying effect and adds enormous value.

Essentially, we will see AI as an augmentation, showing up everywhere and baked into everything.

One thing to recognize, is that we are in the early, early stages of AI and the amazing things that are to come, are still ahead of us. We are still several years away from what AI can do. There are going to be a lot of incredible, positive things. For example, in healthcare, the ability to track and cure disease to contain future pandemics, but it is also going to be threatening, to jobs and can potentially embed more bias into our world. We must be very careful about the consequences of the 4th Industrial Revolution too.

“We must be very careful about the consequences of the 4th Industrial Revolution too.”

How is AI making significant changes to industrial operations?
In the manufacturing space, AI is already helping with optimization. It is interesting in this pandemic, that one of the areas we are becoming acutely aware of is the supply chain, the global supply chain. The shortages revealed during this time show that the supply chain was not agile, leading to today’s problems within it. I think optimization done right can help. Where the market changes quickly, a manufacturing company can shift its production and distribution appropriately, and that will all be assisted through AI.

And what about Blockchain technology, how is it creating efficiencies in a manufacturing setting?
Blockchain is not a mainstream manufacturing tool yet. That is the reality now but in three years, I think the situation will be very different. Where we are seeing usage in manufacturing has a lot to do with the supply chain. One of the areas we see usage is product tracing, or raw material tracing. In certain electronics, some rare metals and chemicals that are used come from mines where conditions are not great. So, how big American corporations are using Blockchain is to validate the source of certain products, to certify that they come from ethical origins. Tracing is beginning to see real benefits from using Blockchain; that’s what Blockchain does well.

“It is interesting in this pandemic, that one of the areas we are becoming acutely aware of is the supply chain, the global supply chain. The shortages revealed during this time show that the supply chain
was not agile.”

Looking more into the supply chain, within the manufacturing sector (and something we’ve learned about during the pandemic), there’s a huge amount of dependencies – no single company makes anything themselves anymore, they have to source things from 10, or sometimes hundreds and thousands of vendors. To assemble a plane or phone, you must get parts from a lot of different sources. Therefore, you need to know when deliveries are going to be made, where products are, at all times, and you need to validate that all the paperwork has been taken care of. This is where Blockchain in the manufacturing supply chain is starting to see some usage. Because Blockchain has the characteristics of being a distributed database with immutability – so you can’t delete the entries – and every transaction is recorded, it means that it’s a very strong solution for parts supplies in the global manufacturing supply chain.

Want to learn more from Dr. Jonathan Reichental? Check out his latest Smart Cities book.

Published by Lucy Ashton, Managing Director, Internet of Business

This UrIoTNews article is syndicated fromInternet of Business