What is the fifth industrial revolution and how will it change the world?
There were nearly two centuries between the first and second industrial revolutions.
We’re now living in either the third or fourth industrial revolution (also known as Industry 4.0), depending on who you talk to, and we’re ‘on the cusp’ of the fifth one.
With the third only fully getting underway in 2012, according to the Economist, that’s a lot of industrial revolutions for a decade.
The first mechanised the textile industry, the second created the means for mass production and the third is around the introduction of the web and vastly improved communication technology. The fourth is all about smart technologies and how everything will be automated and connected.
The Fifth Industrial Revolution (5IR) is so new that experts across the world are scrambling to define exactly what it will be:
- Futurist George Muir argues it will be the AI revolution (though this is pretty much what Industry 4.0 is)
- MEP Eva Kaili thinks that it’s all to do with the potential of quantum computing (yup, still 4.0)
- Genpact believes that it’s the moment when humans and machines combine in the workplace
But the most likely definition can be best summed up by Salesforce founder and co-CEO Marc Benioff:
‘I see a crisis of trust in technology,’ he told the World Economic Forum.
‘In the Fifth Industrial Revolution, we’re going to have to have… a chief ethical and humane use officer.
‘Are we using these technologies for the good of the world?
‘You can’t do business in the Fourth Industrial Revolution without the trust of your employees and your customers and partners.’
The Fourth Industrial Revolution might be taking humans out of industry but the fifth wants to put them back in.
This 5IR asks the question: How can you make the world ‘better’ rather than just ‘more efficient’ or ‘more productive’?
The fourth and fifth industrial revolutions will work in parallel, with the 5IR defining the ethics and impact of the technology developed in the fourth.
It will not only affect how machines are used to create products but how we live in general.
We’re already getting used to the idea of a ‘digital native’ throwing out the rulebooks of 9-to-5 employment but this is likely to expand even further.
Regardless of whether your company is based in Bangladesh or Bournemouth, you can work from where you live and your employer can monitor your performance and keep in touch (which could be both good and bad).
The average person would be able to work whenever they wanted with products completely tailored to them and all of their menial ‘life admin’ delegated to machines.
Whether their actual jobs would be delegated like this remains to be seen.
Over half of jobs in the US – equivalent to around $15 trillion in wages (£11.8tn) – have the potential to be automated, The McKinsey Institute reports, and similar reports from the UK suggest the nature of work will change.
This could create a world with far less work done by humans, which could either be brilliant or devastating for the workforce.
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Industry 5.0 will potentially be a gradual process, with it having to react to the impact of 4.0 changing the way we live our lives.
It’s possible that the fourth ‘has been occurring since the middle of the last century’, Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman, of the World Economic Forum (WEF), has said, but we’re now at a tipping point.
Key shifts in technologies considered the ‘world of tomorrow’ will be happening in the next decade, WEF has said.
It says implantable technologies will be widespread by 2023, 3D printing will see a tipping point in 2022, AI changing white collar jobs will be in 2025 and AI being responsible for decision making by 2026.
McKinsey believes it may be 2055 before we see half of all current work automated.
It’s unlikely to be one specific piece of tech that dramatically alters our lives but a series of inventions that require us to alter how we function as people and as a society.
These changes are exciting in terms of productivity but real people will only see a benefit if those who own companies make changes to how they treat staff.
Government legislation will also be vital in protecting human rights.
Previous industrial revolutions brought about huge leaps in GDP but real wages stagnated for around 50 years during the first.
This is known as the Engels’ pause, which describes the gap between technology improving and people benefitting personally.
When robots will essentially be able to replace humans – both in blue and white collar jobs – there needs to be a safety net to stop companies being able to hoard wealth while working class people slide into poverty.
Solutions touted have included a Universal Basic Income, which would, in theory, mean that everybody has enough to live regardless of whether they’re in work. It has been trialled in countries with varying results.
‘We should start thinking seriously about decoupling income from wages so that everyone in society can participate and contribute to social life without the fear of stigma and destitution that often comes with unemployment,’ says Kyle Lewis of the thinktank Autonomy.
US economist Robert Reich claimed in 2016 that ‘a universal basic income will almost certainly be part of the answer’ when it comes to our changing economy.
But the question is who controls the automation and how much will that increase or decrease people’s employment and income?
If the 5IR is all about ‘trust’ and ‘humanity’, what chance does it have when goods and services will be cheaper than ever before?
It is thought that robots will displace 75 million jobs in the next four years but 133 million new ones will be created – a ‘net positive’ of nearly 60 million jobs – but it is unclear how incomes will be impacted.
This is one of the key questions experts are trying to answer but it is argued that increasing minimum wages quickens the pace of automation in business.
Another important question is whether the 5IR will be global or just in certain countries.
Around 44% of the world’s population has no internet access at all, a study found, which would make participating in the next step of the digital revolution quite difficult.
While some companies are training workers for the future, Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest electronics assembler, cut its workforce by 30% when it introduced robots into the production process.
It will all depend on the way these things are handled by those at the top and the balance between investing in people or technology.
‘The main upside of for employees and employers is that AI is most likely to take away the highly repeatable and mundane tasks, which should free us, the humans, up to do more meaningful work that involves creativity, curiosity, empathy, and judgement,’ Dominic Price, global work futurist at Atlassian, tells Metro.co.uk.
‘To achieve this, companies need to open up their ways of communicating, experimenting, sharing context, and evolving.’
Price says that employers need to understand that ‘most of us have grown up in a world where work was 9-to-5 and Monday to Friday’ and that just ‘because we can be on 24/7, doesn’t mean we should’.
That requires businesses to trust their workers, unlearn old habits and make sure businesses work with their workers rather than against them.
Rather than there being nearly two centuries between revolutions, it’s likely that we’re about to experience two industrial revolutions at once.
And if it comes down to ‘trust’, it’s whether businesses back machines or human workers that will matter most.
The Future Of Everything
This piece is part of Metro.co.uk’s series The Future Of Everything.
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