We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
Steam engine and tools marked the first industrial revolution.
The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.
The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.
The third industrial revolution wasn’t just about personal computers and mobile phones – research shows it increased the amount of time children spent studying and professionals spent working, breaking down the age-old barrier between public and private life.
Similarly, the fourth industrial revolution will transform everything from how we learn, work, live and socialize, to the way we see the world and our role in it. What distinguishes this revolution from those of the past is its scale and speed. With previous industrial revolutions, change came slowly, sometimes leaving entire countries and continents unaffected.
- Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) are integrations of computation, networking, and physical processes. Embedded computers and networks monitor and control the physical processes, with feedback loops where physical processes affect computations and vice versa. The economic and societal potential of such systems is vastly greater than what has been realized, and major investments are being made worldwide to develop the technology. The technology builds on the older (but still very young) discipline of embedded systems, computers and software embedded in devices whose principle mission is not computation, such as cars, toys, medical devices, and scientific instruments. CPS integrates the dynamics of the physical processes with those of the software and networking, providing abstractions and modeling, design, and analysis techniques for the integrated whole.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. It is already changing our health and leading to a “quantified” self, and sooner than we think it may lead to human augmentation.