The 4th industrial revolution is on everyone’s lips. After three long and scrambling revolutions, we are in the wake of a fourth one, more disruptive, more intelligent, and above all, scarier.
The story began with the first industrial revolution which started with the invention of the steam machine and steam power by James Watt. The first face of industrial activity took place with advanced mechanization and increased human, commercial and capital transfer. Less than a century later, the era of mass production accelerated with the discovery of the combustion engine and the moving assembly line. In this second revolution, major innovations followed with the electric lamp as a milestone invention, which soon enabled substantial progresses in biology, chemistry, science and engineering. Towards the end of the 20th century, the third revolution took shape with more advanced electronics and cutting-edge digitalization. Internet based business models redefined social and economic norms globally, and the concept of globalization reached its full potential.
Today, a new revolution is underway, already embarking us on unknown territories where the boundaries between the physical and the virtual are blurred. Terms like artificial intelligence, machine learning, cognitive sciences… are drawing as much attention as apprehension. Hollywood movies and internet series have speculated on what our near future might turn out to be with accelerated human-robot interaction. Some have even imagined humanoid machines capable of expressing feelings and making emotional decisions. But that is not fiction only, the famous robot “Sophia” is a spectacular example of where actual research on artificial intelligence has gotten. More questions are raised as to the frontiers between scientific advancement and ethical and moral issues.
And in the midst of this frantic race, we, in what is referred to as the “third world”, are watching with incredulous eyes, baffled minds, and almost in idiocy, what is about to severely transform, in frighteningly short lapses of time, our lives and those of our children. As mere observers in this 4th IR, we are not putting chances on our side to preserve our existence as independent and self-governing nations.
Time is short and running fast, but we do have the means to still ramp up the scale. Unified development efforts, heavier investments in AI research, transverse initiatives and cross-country cooperation can all be some key ingredients to unleashing innovation and technology in this part of the planet. What is more, it does not have to be the big hairy scary project; small steps in various fields (agriculture, biology, education…) can prove effective and can eventually sum up to significant development patterns. Finally, yes, political will is important and necessary, but the power and impact of entrepreneurial action and community-driven programs should not be discounted. I personally believe that in times of crisis, uncertainty and high turbulence, these very actions have the potential to create the lifter towards sustainable, inclusive and futuristic growth.