Fourth Industrial Revolution — Giant Leap of Mankind into?

“Stop nagging me and do something useful”, my mom replied with a tone that made it clear that she was on the brink of exploding with rage, when I asked her “Is the power back yet?” for umpteenth time (Yes, power cuts are so frequent and lengthy that even my 1600 VA inverter gives up). After a few minutes with every ounce of love she could muster she started telling about her golden past, how she was having fun without mobiles, laptop etc. The third industrial revolution which was defined as Digitization has led us to an array of technologies and services that were beyond what people would have dreamt of, but are now an integral part of our life.

Hence I believe that the way we define Industry 4.0 will determine on how the world will be after 10 years. It has to be defined accordingly that it has a heart and soul, not “a collective term for technologies and concepts of value chain organization”.

Richard Dawkins had once said,
“Change has been observed, it is just that it has not been observed while happening.”

For this fourth industrial revolution, instead of telling what impact it will play out in my community or family, I would like to stress which impact I don’t want. If we had observed the changes of the digital revolution, it would not have blown up on our faces like it did. Around four weeks ago, my metropolitan city of Chennai in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu had received a record rainfall which was the worst in 100 years. This caused a massive flood and all our digital equipments were down and with it all related technology-driven activities such as communication and transportation necessary to conduct business. That’s when people realized on how dependent they were on the technology; daily consumables such as milk, eggs and vegetables were sold at exorbitant prices, often 200%. People did not have a choice. Imagine a society which was dependent on something for so long, overnight it becomes obsolete and the cost of living around them shoots up multiple times.

This is the kind of impact the fourth industrial revolution can have on a society if it the changes are not studied and a transition plan is not devised.

Any industrial revolution will lead to an increase in average income of the population. It also happened during the third industrial revolution but the cost of living also increased which basically nullified the effect of increase in income. In October 2015, World Bank updated the international poverty line to $1.90/day. In 2008, the figure was $1/day. Adjusting inflation we can see that the figure is approximately same. The role of the governments is to ensure that the increased income due to 4.0 should not go in vain.

All objects in this world have two uses.

First the reason for which the object was designed, secondly the possibility to conceive the object as barter.

People are more interested in bartering their inventions than use it for original purpose. The recent furor when cure for AIDS was bought just to sell at a higher price is one of the many examples. The effect small and medium entrepreneurs have on an economy is shifting the paradigm towards a capitalist economy where the labor is replaced by technology.

The major risk in 4.0 can be explained by using this example. The Premier League TV rights were bought by Sky for £5.14bn which is 83% more than what it paid 3 years ago. Owners of the club are investing £20–30mn more than they can afford hoping to stay in the league to get a chunk of that big pie. When their club is one of the three which is relegated from the league, they can’t pay the debts and the club gets foreclosed. There is popular sarcastic quote “Indian engineers who take to engineering before figuring out their dreams”, the modern day 4.0 entrepreneurs may invest a lot more than they are capable of seeking a share of the windfall at the end of the revolution but may not have the sufficient juice to last till the end.

The main role of the governments is to get ahead of this revolution. We are at the end of digital revolution but now only we (Indians) are starting a campaign for “Digital India”. If it were the Olympics, developed countries are partying after winning the medals, while some like us are now only getting to the stadium but for many the stadium is like a distant dreamland.

I believe the fourth industrial revolution should have a touch of humanity because of that one character which makes us superior, the ability to learn from our mistakes. If a robot is coded to give 1+1 as 3, even after 1000 times the answer will be 3. In a world that is constantly changing, only humans can adapt to it. Therefore I consider fourth industrial revolution as the prophetic son of the revolutions which will bring balance to world if guided properly.

Author: Manish Mohan