It appears that in the last 250 years we humans have been quite proficient in carrying out revolutions of all kinds, political, scientific, and economic. Here we will talk about the industrial revolutions, as we had three already and are very likely in the dawn of the fourth one already. Before going further let’s have a look at the previous ones in a nutshell.
The first industrial revolution began in northern Europe, by industrialising textiles, and then spread to other manufacturing areas, from households and workshops to factories, aided by the discovery of steam power, and it happened between 1750 and 1850. A few years later comes the second industrial revolution, this time a technological one, where industrialisation standards took place, and a lot of improvements and technological discoveries, for example, the use of tractors in agriculture, or more sophisticated machinery in factories and mines, energy plants, etc… The third industrial revolution started between the 1960s and 90s and is ongoing, the keywords are digitalisation and automation, applying electronics, computers, internet, and information technology. 60 years have passed since the beginning of the digital revolution there is already talk about the 4th industrial revolution, and now we are going to look at what is this all about.
Industrial revolutions are not like political revolutions, where a system or group replaces another, actually a more correct term would be industrial evolution, as each carries on the achievements and goals of the previous modernising the approach to best fit and answer the current social, economic, political and environmental conditions. However, it is not like industrial revolutions (or evolutions) happen gradually and unnoticed, au contraire, quite often create quite a havoc and upheaval, from economic crisis and bankrupting entire countries, from widespread unemployment to social conflict, from inflation to resource crisis, until it all settles.
Anyways, what is the 4th industrial revolution all about? According to the World Economic Forum, it is a change in mentality, a transformation of our mindset concerning the value created by the constantly emerging technologies, and how this value is created, exchanged, and distributed, and the impact that can be gained on both social and economic systems. The digital revolution (the third one) has paved the way for what is about to happen, or rather is already happening as we speak, and we are talking about: biotechnology and precision medicine; advanced robotics and drones, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented mixed realities, new materials, neurotechnology, new approach to energy generation and storage, etc. Meaning driving investments to use the existing technology and knowledge (and invest to further develop) in this new direction, and just like the previous revolutions will change how we produce things, how we interact, how we communicate and distribute goods.
Just remember, every industrial revolution is ongoing and each turn is an upgrade, not a replacement, as new forms and shapes of community and economy benefit from the technology and science available, and are able to participate and contribute to the development and transitions towards new models of producing, distributing, purchasing and earning. We just need to remember that communities and societies can evolve in different directions and at different speeds, for example, many parts of the world still did not undergo the first industrial revolution, just saying!
And the question here is: does a country, a society, an economic system need to go through each of the past three revolutions in order to implement the fourth one, or can start directly at this point? The argument of many developing countries today is that they are yet unable to implement measures such as green economy and sustainable manufacturing practices because disadvantaged when compared to the so-called developed world, who could go through each of the industrial revolutions. Can’t the developing economies of the world already start implementing circular economy, recycling and re-use of materials, sustainable practices that embed people, profit, and the planet, building on an inclusive and participated economy using a bottom-up approach starting with communities? According to Rifkin, it is possible, plausible, and necessary, the know-how and technology are present, what is the purpose of a coal plant when there is the technology for efficient and affordable photovoltaic and wind farms. We, humans, are in this together, and together are the steps forward we need to make.