Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR was publicly announced in Davos in 2016. Although the subject-related discussions have been recurring sporadically over the last 75 years (according to Wikipedia) the wide publicity of the term appeared in 2011 at the Hanover Fair. The issue was revived with regard to Industry 4.0 – the concept of an action team of the industrial leaders from Germany. The representatives of several German industrial giants such as Siemens, BASF, and Bosch offered a set of recommendations to the German Government about how the next stage of industrial development should be comprehended along with the main technological trends requiring the closest focusing.
4IR vs Industry 4.0
4IR and Industry 4.0 may sound similar while reflecting different agenda nonetheless. German industrialists emphasize the reformation of the very vision of how manufacturing would proceed in the nearest future when the hyper-customization of products should reintegrate the standalone factories into the holistic self-managed system of the super efficient, environment-friendly, and customer-oriented production.
Klaus Schwab, the Executive Chairman of Davos World Economic Forum together with numerous speakers discusses the crucial impact of robotics, artificial intelligence, IoT, and 3D printing on the civilization in terms of social, political, and financial challenges the accelerating technological development may bring to the global population.
Revolution or Evolution?
The term ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ itself sounds good being rather ambivalent and controversial with regard to its meaning. Perhaps only ‘Industrial’ is not disputable among the academic circles. The term ‘Revolution’ usually means a leap or a fundamental and a rapid reconstruction of some process. It corresponds well to the previous three industrial revolutions when steam, electricity, and information technologies have fundamentally altered the way in which people organized the production process. Many experts prefer speaking about rather an evolution than revolution when the contemporary overall digitization is discussed.
Whom it may concern
Such a standpoint makes sense since the intrusion of the digital into various areas of life proceeds quite smoothly being a logical extension of the third industrial revolution in many aspects. Of course, every industry, each socio-political phenomenon, the whole economics, and the entire environment of the humankind existence will be affected by the ongoing digital transformation. However, the explosive technological leap inherent in the very revolution has not been observed yet. At least as long as the artificial super-intelligence occupies the whole stage.
Investment proves discourse
In fact, it is not too important whether the phenomenon is called a revolution or a very dynamic evolution. Even the confusion between 4IR and Industry 4.0 is hardly dangerous for an understanding of the process. What really matters is the actual movements, events, and transformations providing a paradigm shift from the industrial to the post-industrial civilization. It is crucial to understand that 4IR is available within not only the discourse of Professor Schwab and other Davos speakers. The huge investment in the related technologies (Germany alone absorbs about 40 billion Euro/year of the Industry 4.0 investment) legitimizes 4IR as an actually existing, non-virtual phenomenon.
Two opposite attitudes to 4IR circulate among futurologists and social experts. The optimistic viewpoint describes a technological utopia inhabited by happy post-humans with numerous cyber-implants allowing them to live to be 150. They spend a good time performing interesting and creative assignments while robots take routine and hard jobs. It is remarkable that the majority of the post-industrial optimists appeal to rather bourgeois egotism when they picture a super comfortable day-to-day life with coffee machines bringing coffee in bed and self-driving cars with zero emissions. Showing a personal environment saturated with smart objects they overlook the price people should pay for such wealthy future.
In contrast to them, the pessimists emphasize the social cataclysms inevitable in the scenario where the line between biological and digital is blurred and artificial intelligence dominates over humans. Pessimists do not deny that smart technologies can significantly improve living conditions of those lucky ones who can occupy the higher level of the increasingly unequal society. The social inequality drastically elevating due to the enormous unemployment is to be a logical outcome of the robotization within the inside-out labor market of 4IR. The problem is not that millions of low-skilled workers producing sneakers for $2/day in Asia will become unemployed. The problem is that humans in general may become irrelevant.
Inside-out labor market
New technologies will reconstruct the labor market in a very specific manner making all current professions vulnerable to the 4IR needs. It seems not only low-skilled workers should worry about their jobs. AI-driven deep learning systems can process big data with the efficiency inaccessible to a human CEO while important financial or production decisions for a company are required.
Some experts expect up to 40% of CEO and other top managers will be fired in favor of the AI-based decision makers. Those marketers who are proud of their ability to negotiate effectively can face problems soon. Their cognitive agility will become less valuable when smart machines make more pragmatic and profit-oriented decisions based on the big data analysis. Those specialists who attempt to anticipate the post-industrial labor market are moving towards the consensus that only professions related to human creativity can remain untouched while artificial intelligence keeps mimicking artists and composers still in a pretty awkward manner.
Without much attention to both optimists and pessimists, many big businesses along with several far-sighted national governments began turning economics in the direction opposite to the one, which was prevailing over the last 25-30 years. Since cheap labor is not a crucial business driver anymore, the highly automated industrial manufacturing is to come from the sweatshop areas back to its “motherland”. The well-known motto of the new US President and the Industry 4.0 German program implicitly confirm such an agenda.
Creating new jobs
This position allows some officials to feel confident about a new type of employment. For example, the current German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel gave a telling example of how new technologies could provide new jobs. According to him, a modern military drone requires about 300 persons of support staff while an ordinary fighter plane needs only 70 technicians. This may mean that even highly robotized factories will demand quite a big number of new supervisors despite the self-maintaining, self-adjusting, and self-planning manner in which the new smart productions should work.
By the way, the industrial diagnostics corresponding to the IIoT and IoE trends are in a great demand. The organizations capable of providing 4IR players with the relevant hardware/software diagnostic solutions have a good chance to take a place in the train of the upcoming human-free manufacturing.
What is hidden?
Both optimistic and pessimistic predictions about 4IR concern rather external and tangible aspects of the post-industrial agenda. The numerous available observations are quite comprehensible and publicly discussable even if it comes to such fantastic scenarios as the total cyborgization or Mars colonization, for example. However, something sinister, some scary aftermath remains after diving deep into the 4IR subject. There is a feeling that the most important side of the post-industrial civilization is left unexpressed intentionally. It seems, in the context of speculations about technological end economic issues the very meaning of life of the post-industrial population remains beyond the discussion.
The assumption that people exempt from the need to work for life will be able to keep themselves busy with legal and socially useful activities is highly questionable. The whole course of human history can testify on the social decline and moral corruption appearing when people are left without a meaningful activity. Recollect the ancient Rome with gladiator fights and the rabble’s motto “bread and circuses”. Perhaps, a similar approach to a post-civilization is under development now where universal basic income and the like should be “bread”, and the digital entertainment in the form of virtual and augmented reality would act as “circuses”.
Multibillion-dollar investment to such projects as Oculus Rift and Magic Leap are perplexing in terms of ROI. At the same time, they perfectly fit the upcoming “circuses” technique aimed at immersing the post-population into a highly realistic dreamland in order to prevent people affected by idleness from any social protest. There is nothing new under the sun, the detailed description of such a scenario can be found in Philip Dick’s “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” first published in 1965.
Elite and marginal
This is certainly obvious that the middle class, who has been nurturing by a liberal paradigm such a long time, is coming to its end. The cumulative effect of all technological and social changes inherent in 4IR will result in a clear social separation on small super-rich elite and the rest marginalized post-population. The lucky opportunities of owning a driverless electric car or a new smartphone pre-adjusted in accordance with your personal data can hardly outweigh the gloomy prospects of spending the whole life somewhere between the reality of the total unemployment and the phantasmagoria of virtual entertainments.
Indeema hopes that the very sagacity inherent in the humankind will prevent people from the final loss of subjectivity in the face of numerous challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.