The Fourth Industrial Revolution where biology and technology collide

The human race has created tools since our very beginning. These tools have served as extensions of our physical selves: mallets an extension of our arms and fists, spears an extension of our teeth, and even cooking as an extension of our stomachs, making our foods higher in calories and easier to digest. We have advanced our technology through a series of revolutions...

THE FIRST INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION kicked off in the mid 18th century. It was marked by the emergence of steam powered engines and machinery which revolutionized production in Europe. The economy shifted from small, cottage industries, to large factories where goods were mass produced.

THE SECOND INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION occurred between 1850-1914 Our source of power shifted once again from steam to electricity. Production became even more efficient

electric bulbs made our days longer

and the Model T was marketed to every man in town.

THE THIRD INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION began in the mid 20th century and was Characterized by the use of electronics and automation for production.

The first computers were made; giant machines that took up entire rooms.

The internet was created. The technology rapidly enhanced and soon enough their was a computer in most homes throughout the developed world.

What about today?

Today, we are on the cusp of what some are calling the fourth industrial revolution. This latest revolution is happening as we speak. It is the melding of the technological and biological. Physical and digital. Man and machine.

No, not like that-

...or maybe exactly like that.

But on a more relatable scale, we have already begun the melding of man and machine through things like neurally connected, or mind-controlled, limbs and cochlear implants (device that allows deaf people to hear).

And what about our cell phones? It's almost like they are welded into our hands. How are things like our phones, computers, and the internet changing us and our society? Amber Chase, a cyborg anthropologist explains:

Amber points out that this the first time humans have ever created a tool that expands the capacity and reach of our minds. This tool allows us the opportunity to embrace our innate socialization skills in such an expansive format that our thoughts and emotions can reach around the world- literally. Pretty amazing stuff.

What about phones or tablets that can read, recognize, and analyze our facial expression to discern our emotions. Not only that, but also synthesize a response to make us happy if we are sad or recommend ways to relax if we are stressed?

Rana El Kaliouby, a computer scientist, is creating technology to do exactly that. the possible uses of this technology, she says, include ways to help visually impaired people read the emotions of others and aid those on the Autism spectrum recognize the emotions of others as well.

Clearly our current technology plays a large role in how we socialize, but is it always a positive one? Are we only using it to expand or innate social abilities or is it stripping us of our humanity? How often do we open up youtube and find an embarrassing video of some poor soul at the top of the trending list? Or a photograph taken of a celebrity's fashion mishap plastered across the Dailymail's Snapchat feed? What about an offhand tweet that you didn't think through? Jon Ronson, a writer and journalist, explains the story of one woman who made one tweet, albeit not the most eloquent thought ever dictated to a media platform, that ruined her life.

Our second self, the online person we have each created that lives on our Facebook pages, Instagram profiles, Twitter feeds, and Reddit forums, can be the only medium through which interaction between you and another person may take place. How we present our second self can negate the nuances that come with humanity and lead to some pretty ugly scenarios. This new social network may be providing us with only a marginalized view of humanity- dictated only by how we represent ourselves on the internet. This lack of understanding can cause serious, real life repercussions like losing the support of loved ones and friends, losing your job, your money, and for some, the ability to live a normal life.

Alright, but how is that fair? One thoughtless comment and your life is ruined?

The newest revolution in technology may require us to rewrite our moral codes. Let's look at some examples:

Self driving cars are becoming more and more of a reality, thank you, Google, but they pose some moral dilemmas. Who is to blame if while on the road, the car encounters three pedestrians and the car must hit one of them in order to save the others. Who decides who dies? Is it the car itself, the car company, or the programmers who designed the brain in the car? Or what about the thousands and thousands of drivers who could be put out of work if they are made obsolete by this technological break through? Is it morally or ethically ok to take their livelihood in the name of progress? But, on the other side of the coin, research suggest that roads will be much safer with automated cars because the majority of traffic incidents are caused by human error, not machine. So what do we do: put thousands of people out of work, impoverishing entire families, or do we negate the possible life-saving benefits of automated roads?

What about the use of algorithms to track and predict our online behaviors to better target advertisements? These algorithms may be harmless when contained in research-only parameters, but what if they fall into the wrong hands?

And what about encryption? Almost all of our digital information is encrypted to protect us from any invading parties. When our phones, computers, and apps update, there is usually an element of encryption updates as well to further secure our information. But what happens when the encryption stands in the way of the law as it did in the court case over the San Bernardino shooting? Should the FBI be allowed access to the iPhone, requiring that Apple infiltrate its own encryption software to retrieve the information for the sake of the investigation? Or is Apple correct in denying them access and refusing to write code to break the encryption that could, if mishandled by a malicious agent, put anyone owning an Apple product at risk of being attacked? Not only that, but does the FBI's request for Apple to write this code violate the First amendment if we view code as a form of language?

And last but not least, what about how the wealth gap will play into all of this? Those with enough money may be the only ones to benefit fully from the newest forms of technology. Or should things like biotechnological implants for life-saving procedures or genetic engineering to irradiate diseases be available to everyone free of cost? How would we fund that? Does it fit into our current political or economic model?

These are all questions that we must begin to think about, because it is us who will have to find the answers.



Dalmia, Vinayak, and Kavi Sharma. "The Moral Dilemmas of the Fourth Industrial Revolution." World Economic Forum, 13 Feb. 2017. Web. Mar. 2017.

Kelnar, David. "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: A Primer on Artificial Intelligence (AI) – MMC Writes." Medium. MMC Writes, 02 Dec. 2016. Web. Mar. 2017.

Mokyr, Joel, Robert H. Strotz Professor Of Arts And Sciences, And Professor Of Economics And History, and Northwestern University. The Second Industrial Revolution, 1870-1914 (n.d.): n. pag. Aug. 1998. Web. Mar. 2017.

Schwab, Klaus. "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What It Means, How to Respond." World Economic Forum, 14 Jan. 2016. Web. Mar. 2017.

STAFF, NPR/TED. "Are Our Devices Turning Us Into A New Kind Of Human?" NPR. NPR, 11 Sept. 2015. Web. Mar. 2017.

Staff, NPR/TED. "How Can Our Real Lives Be Ruined By Our Digital Ones?" NPR. NPR, 18 Sept. 2015. Web. Mar. 2017.

Staff, NPR/TED. "What Can Companies Predict From Your Digital Trail?" NPR. NPR, 18 Sept. 2015. Web. Mar. 2017.

STAFF, NPR/TED. "Will Our Screens Soon Be Able To Read Our Emotions?" NPR. NPR, 11 Sept. 2015. Web. Mar. 2017.

Times, The New York. "Breaking Down Apple's IPhone Fight With the U.S. Government." The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Mar. 2016. Web. Mar. 2017.

Created By
Riannon Adams

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.