“Technological revolution […] that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” – Klaus Schwab on Fourth Industrial Revolution

The current talk in town called Fourth Industrial Revolution has been buzzing since World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman, Professor Klaus Schwab coined the term in his book with that title and presented this vision in 2016. It opened a discourse about how we are entering a modern world where technology is moving at an exponential pace rather than a linear pace like the Revolution’s predecessors, and how this would affect our lives, work, the way we interact with each other and a lot more.

This distinct, scary but exhilarating era we are entering is disrupting almost every industry globally. It is greatly impacting disciplines, industries, and economies.

We have artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, Internet of Things, voice-over activation, machine learning, drones, face ID recognition — all of which are part of our day-to-day lives if you come to realize. We also have smart technologies in the workplace that have interacting machines which help the production in daily operations, and notably, make our jobs easier through automation.

The capability of technology is endless and we can’t help but agree with the Schwab’s vision that changes are inevitable which then begs the questions: “How does our future look?” “Will AI replace our jobs in the future?” “Are we going to be in danger with these developments?” “Would they bring nothing but catastrophe?”

The timeline

There are four different revolutions that made humans discover endless possibilities with change and technology.

The First Industrial Revolution is known as the “Steam Era” that started in Great Britain in 1760. Back then, it helped the world explore new manufacturing processes which led to the creation of factories, textiles, and railroads.

With the boom of new discoveries in the First Industrial Revolution, this paved the way to new industries such as electricity, steel, oil in the Second Industrial Revolution in 1800. Aha moments were the telephone, light bulb, an internal combustion engine.

After a long time, various inventions gave birth to the Third Industrial Revolution also known as the ‘Digital Revolution’ where the personal computer, semiconductor, and Internet were first invented.

Now the Fourth Industrial Revolution brought a new and bigger transformation of how both businesses and the people run compared to the previous eras. Since AI is the basis of this new revolution, this changes the global landscape where it demands that organizations would need to use sophisticated machines and change their traditional business models into a data-driven model in order to compete. This would also mean that humans need to acquire more skills to not feel threatened that smart technologies will replace them in the long run.

Boone or bane?

It’s not all about the dangers that The Fourth Industrial Revolution poses but also the promise of improving the quality of life for the world and possibly raising income levels. This is apparent in developed countries where consumers are able to enjoy and reap the benefits of the digital world. Smoother graphics in games, interactive alternate endings in movies or TV series, product suggestions through an algorithm and so much more to mention.

In 2015, 3-D printing was just a mere idea. No one even believes that it would happen but it did. Today, it is increasing from 200,000 productions of 3-D printers to 2.4 million in 2020 according to a report by Canalys 2016.

Organizations have been working smarter, too, because of cutting-edge machines and efficient systems. For example, as an impact talent network, we match talents to organizations in the impact sector through an intelligent system focused on the impact sector which makes it easier to fast-track results. Although this doesn’t entirely replace the traditional recruitment, this offers an alternative solution to both talents and organizations as an AI recruitment solution.

While this is great to hear where we are heading to, it also doesn’t remove the fear from the labor sector where people clamor that they might be replaced by robots someday. Amazon has considered in rolling out two machines this year in their warehouses where it’ll possibly remove 24 roles at each one. In a study conducted by Frey and Osborne, 47 percent of jobs in the US are exposed to the risk of becoming redundant through computerization. This might mean that organizations would no longer need low-wage, uneducated workings but consider to double the effort in increasing computers to fulfill the jobs.

However, some countries have just discovered the Second Industrial Revolution. While first world countries are entering the Fourth Revolution, there are still those who are struggling to keep up with the changes especially the developing countries. The promise might then pose a threat to society by making income inequality worse making it more difficult to achieve Goal 10 in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Here are some jobs that are likely to be taken by AI:

  1. Taxi drivers – Autonomous vehicle technology can make fewer flaws in road traffic accidents than humans. With 5G network connections allows driverless cars to be smart, reduce accidents on roads, drive faster but also safer for passengers.
  2. Long-haul truck drivers – Using the same driverless vehicle technology as for taxis. It saves the costs of drivers’ wages or welfares. No need to worry about working hours of the drivers, safety of them or quality of delivering products.
  3. Telemarketers – Google has already debuted Duplex, a virtual intelligent assistant to do customer service calls as it can match FAQS or problems with proper answers.  
  4. Accountants/ auditors – AI masters in accuracy, efficiency, and speed which are crucial to accounting or auditing more than humans. However, analyzing and interpreting AI data by humans are still in need.
  5. Bank tellers – Now, many bank clerks are already replaced by internet banking. But in the future, virtual robots are going to take over human staff’s duties more. According to The Financial Brand, “Cora”, a virtual bank service agent or a digital human, already had able to answer around 200 customers’ basic questions like ‘How do I log in to online banking?’, ‘How do I apply for a mortgage?’ and ‘What do I do if I lose my card?’ She also had already about 100,000 conversations a month with customers through the screen.

There are also other ones such as but not limited to journalists, translators, lawyers, teachers. These, however, require deep human interaction which AI still can’t fully perform as humans do.  

How to Prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

There’s a lot of argument on how to best prepare for Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s a very broad topic but Schwab suggests that both leaders and citizens should work together “shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.

Through a globally shared view of how this revolution would change our lives, a comprehensive strategy in place might aid technology’s direction on how it affects the human environments economy, society, and culture. Schwab proceeds to call world leaders not to be distracted but instead focus their efforts in planning “about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.”

Aside from the leaders, humans should also be able to adapt and be proactive in shaping technology and disruption. Organizations must be willing to transform their business model into a data-driven one, else they might be left behind.

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The future is still uncertain—we might be able to fulfil the revolution’s promise or it would only cause us, further division than we are today. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is definitely debatable. Depending on where you are from, it can be exciting or it can be bleak. In essence, the goal should be to leverage technological advancement in reducing inequality.

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