The Terrifying Potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Image of the landscape of the fourth industrial revolution where technology is connected to everyday life.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to empower individuals and communities, as it creates new opportunities for economic, social, and personal development. But it also could lead to the marginalization of some groups, exacerbate inequality, create new security risks, and undermine human relationships.” Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum has identified the era in which we are now living as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an era of complex, interconnected political, cultural and economic change made possible by the widespread accessibility of digital technologies. The future has never before been so bright—or so bleak. So, what does it all mean for business, society and humankind?

There’s a lot to know about the Fourth Industrial Revolution: first, it follows on from the first Industrial Revolution (the transition to mechanization) we all learned about in school. But did you know that there was also a second (transition to electricity) and third (transition to digital) industrial revolution? It’s true, and like all the others, the Fourth Industrial Revolution contains as many threats as it does opportunities. However, what is particular to this industrial revolution is the interconnectedness of all the innovations enabled by low-cost and easy availability of the digital tools powering it. Boundaries between the digital and physical worlds are blurred at a pace never before experienced, resulting in transformation on a global scale. And we are powering it: from the Fitbits on our wrists to the gene profiling kits one can purchase on the internet, because of the very nature of the way we live now, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is driven from the ground up. Curious pre-teens on personal computers could easily weaponize a smart thermostat or baby monitor and now have access to a kind of power once reserved only for governments or institutions. The sophisticated connections of the Internet mean that information and goods can flow very easily and quickly in any direction, creating new cyber security risks for the systems that depend upon them. In addition, the twin bogeymen of climate change and political instability that haunt the Fourth Industrial Revolution pose existential risks to humanity as a whole.

If this all sounds overwhelming, it is. But more than anything else, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a call to action. The time is now to work together to build the future we want to inherit. And if there is anything we know about at Innovation Arts, it’s how to work quickly together. By exploring scenarios, being open and flexible to change, and ready to accept whatever challenges come our way, those who develop offerings in a way that promote an empowering, collaborative and sustainable foundation for development will be the ones placed to lead. Like any large, multi-stakeholder challenge, coping with the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not about making a one big future-proof shift, but about many micro revolutions happening in parallel, and how we cope with it requires creativity. The Fourth Industrial Revolution requires leaders with skills to manage rapid change who will be able to guide their organizations through dramatic changes and recognize that robust activity is not necessarily a sign that the organization is thriving. As professionals we need to embrace change and understand that the jobs we hold today might be dramatically different in the not too distant future. Do we have the flexibility and critical thinking skills necessary for future workplaces?

Above all, we must understand the time is now to collaborate on potential solutions: by sharing knowledge, sharing resources, and helping each other learn, innovate and defend. By acknowledging shared values we can pool our resources and respond to the challenges that we will all face together.  

Innovation Arts is the globally recognised hybrid strategy and design consultancy known for its work with some of the world’s leading companies, as well as a range of global NGOs and public sector organisations. Named by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, Innovation Arts has enjoyed over 12 years of helping business leaders to successfully navigate transformational change and organisational challenges within their companies.