The Fourth Industrial Revolution; Is It A Thing?

domran

It may not be what you think

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Are you as confused as I am?

Have you ever suddenly noticed a term sneak into society?

That’s how I feel about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Over time, it has subtly wormed its way into my life. And now, I see it thrown around tech circles all the time.

After 20+ years of experience and education in the tech field, it's tough to admit that I don't know what it is. That's why this post is not only to educate you, but myself as well.

To begin, I only have a vague idea of the Industrial Revolution. I looked it up but found the dictionary definition to be well…dry. So let's go with a real-life example.

Imagine living in a village of sheepherders. Your job, along with many others, is to produce yarn out of wool; by hand. Aptly named hand-spinning, the process has been described as dull and lengthy. But, to be fair, hand-spinning as a hobby is said to be rewarding as well.

But in this case, hand-spinning isn't for fun; it's your job. Keep in mind, creating yarn in this manner is the only method you're aware of. But what exactly are you doing?

I won't go into details, but learning this process helped me understand how irksome the job could be.

Picture yourself holding a strand of wool as it's pulled and twisted onto a piece of wood called a spindle. The wood is constantly spinning, and it's this action that produces the wool.

Yep, that's your job. Of course, there's more to it, but you get the idea. It's boring work, to be sure.

This industry is known as textiles—transforming fibers into various kinds of cloth-like materials.

Now, remember, this task of yours is worldwide. Everyone creates yarn in the same manner. So imagine the shock when an invention surfaces to increase efficiency tenfold or better.

Britannica.com says, several new machines, such as the spinning jenny and the power loom, propelled the textile industry to new heights.

The Industrial Revolution is a term that describes technological changes that transform society. DifferenceBetween.com mentions other profound changes, but to keep it simple, the First Industrial Revolution focused on textiles, steam power, and iron.

There's a lot of overlap between the First and Second Industrial Revolutions. But needless to say, the Second caused another push forward but centered more on electricity, chemicals, petroleum, steel, and railroads.

The Third Industrial Revolution is worth delving into because after researching, I was convinced we’re still living it.

According to Richmond Vale Academy, a research and training institution, the Third Industrial Revolution is "The shift from mechanical and analog electronic technology to the digital electronics we use today."

Doesn’t that describe our current climate?

Also, I learned that the Third Industrial Revolution is often called the Digital Revolution. But, again, that depicts our current state, right?

Is there a line we can draw in the sand between the Third and Fourth?

Let’s find out.

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum asserts that the Fourth is building on the Third.

What does that mean?

That the Third and Fourth are marked by a blending of tech that muddles the lines between the biological, physical, and digital fields. Let’s unpack that.

We've already established that the Third describes our current social state. There's a reason for that and why the Fourth seems to encroach on the Third—the insane pace of progress. At no other time in history has technology advanced at this exponential rate. This fact alone has affected every industry in the world, changing entire frameworks and our way of life.

We can look at smartphones as one example. ThoughtCo.com states that IBM invented the first true smartphone in 1992.

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Not much to look at, huh...

The Simon Personal Communicator’s basic functions included phone calls, a touchscreen for dialing, simple apps like calendar and address books, and other third-party apps. But I mean, look at this thing compared to what we have today.

But the reality check is that we went from this 1992 dinosaur to our current phones in only 29 years (at the time of this writing).

I can't begin to cover all advances made, but how about size, storage, and sheer processing power for starters. And apps! don't get me started…

There are many other technologies and inventions that have had rapid improvement, but the speed of progress isn’t the only factor to consider with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Specific technologies, and the sheer scope of their impact, have cropped up to further this Revolution—artificial Intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), robotics, biotech, nanotech, digital storage, and more.

Let’s go back to the statement, “…the Third and Fourth are marked by a blending of tech that muddles the lines between the biological, physical, and digital fields.” At this point, it’s vital to reflect on today’s culture and how it relates to this blending of fields.

As a society, we have changed.

It's not that the internet has given us an unmatched level of connectivity, although that's part of it. After researching this topic, I believe the Fourth Industrial Revolution marks our cultural acceptance of merging with technology. I've mentioned AI, AR, biotech, etc., and while these inventions aren't new, it is now, more than any other time in history, that we see ourselves joining with them.

Don’t believe me?

Just look at AR. Your eyes provide a ton of details about your surroundings, but augmented reality can superimpose key data over your normal vision.

The most popular AR user interface is the smartphone. The camera displays what you see while an app provides the overlay. But using a phone isn’t the only way to experience AR.

Augmented reality smartglasses are growing popular. Want to know stats on the stock market, sports scores, or the weather while you're taking a walk? No need to pull out your phone. Just place these cutting-edge glasses on your nose, and bam, instant data.

You think that’s cool? What about AR contact lenses? That’s right, it’s a thing; check out Mojo’s website.

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AR is one sample of humanity melding with tech. VR is another; similar but on a grander scale by including full sensory immersion.

But, in my opinion, cyborgs tell the best story of humans fusing with tech.

What is a cyborg?

Simplicable says, "A cyborg is a human or animal that physically integrates with a computer and other mechanical components."

So, think RoboCop.

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While we are not at the level of this movie, there have been great leaps in this direction. One stunning case is the LUKE arm (yes, after the famous Luke Skywalker!).

Futurism provides these highlights of the LUKE arm:

  • Sense of touch
  • Resistance feedback
  • Muscle signals translating to physical movement
  • Multiple joint control
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Even more telling is the advent of the brain-computer interface (BCI). Most definitions can be very complex, but imagine using your mind to control the cursor on your screen. Or, as with the LUKE arm, controlling a prosthetic limb as smoothly as your own.

How useful would that be?

I’m a gamer and can only imagine doing away with game console controllers or a mouse and keyboard to let my brain truly do the driving.

I’ve done enough research into the Digital and Fourth Industrial Revolutions to conclude that many feel there isn’t a Fourth at all, but merely an extension of the digital age.

I disagree.

I asked earlier if we could draw a line in the sand between the Third and Fourth Industrial Revolutions. In my opinion, absolutely. The transition into humanity’s acceptance of merging biology with tech is crucial and in a class of its own.

Some would call this transhumanism, but I’m reluctant to use that term right now since it’s a philosophy that includes so much more than the scope of this post.

Personally, I think It’s an exciting time to be alive. But as always, we must be cautious moving forward as this quote conveys:

There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.
Klaus Schwab

What do you think? Do you disagree? Tell me in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

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I'm a freelance that specializes in the technology industry and its diverse impacts on modern culture. My goal is to use my experience and research skills to inform, entertain, and educate readers about tech's impact on society.

Summerville, SC
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