The phrase “Fourth Industrial Revolution” has become a buzzword since it was mentioned by Professor Klaus Schwab in his book of the same name in 2016.
At the time. Professor Schwab believed that we were at the threshold of a revolution, one driven by massive advancements in technology.
This, he believed was the fourth in a series of revolutions that took place over that past 300 or so years that completely transformed the way we lived and worked.
The previous revolutions catapulted us from muscle power to steam power, then to electric power and finally to digital power.
Prior to the first industrial revolution, everything was driven by muscle power. Some work we did manually, while others were done by animals such as horses, mules and cattle. Then cam steam-powered machinery, which replaced muscle power and triggered an industrial revolution.
The second industrial revolution saw us graduate from steam to electricity, further accelerating our progress as a species.
The third revolution was very different from the first two, in the sense that it saw the introduction of completely new types of machines: machines that replaced brain power, instead of muscle power.
Just as the machinery in factories began to do most of the heavy physical work that was once done by humans and animals, computers began to do much of the heavy mental work, thereby freeing our brains to focus on more complex activities like creativity, problem-solving and innovation.
The 3IR was an exciting time that saw the introduction of computers, the internet, cellular phones, mobile devices, social media, e-commerce, e-learning and a whole host of new technologies never before imagined.
The 3IR continues to this day, but is now overlapped by the fourth in this series of major revolutions: the 4IR. In many ways, the 4IR is a product of the 3IR, in that it is built on technologies developed during the 3IR, but it is also radically different in many ways.
What differentiates the 4IR most from its predecessor, is artificial intelligence, or AI. AI has completely blurred the line between the human mind and computers by giving computers the power to do things that were only possible for humans to do previously.
Thanks to AI, computers can speak like we do, understand human language, recognise people, animals and other objects, teach themselves new skills they were not programmed to do and solve complex problems.
These new abilities are making computers into an indispensable ally in the innovation space. More and more, scientists, engineers and innovators are relying on AI to assist them in research and development, which means the rate of innovation will speed up considerably since computers are much faster than humans.
We will see new and revolutionary innovations in pretty much every current industry, as well as the birth of completely new industries.
We will see major strides in computing, such as a new generation of mobile supercomputers, intelligent robots and quantum computers. There will be major strides in the fields of 3D printing, biotechnology, agricultural technology, financial technology and others.
Technologies such as neural implants, 3D printed limbs, lab-grown meat and cryptocurrency will be commonplace by 2030.