As a geek, a sci-fi lover, a futurist, a technology lover, a person with a fascination for humans and what makes us tick, and an investor – I am constantly on the lookout for what the next big thing, the next big disruption, or the next human-culture shattering event may be – so reading Shaping the Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab was a no brainer.
Klaus Schwab is the Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum. He wrote a book in 2016 called the Fourth Industrial Revolution – which was one ofthe first books to clearly show just how sudden, powerful, and life chainging the technology we see around us every day is. We are in the midst of the most dramatic change our species has ever encountered. To put things in perspective – let’s take a step way back. This summary is not in the book but is helpful for understanding it.
The Agricultural Revolution (12,000 years ago) turned our species from nomadic hunter gatherers to farmers and allowed for massive population growth. The Scientific Revolution (500 years ago) gave us the tools to study and change the world around us based on what we learned. The First Industrial Revolution (200 years ago) opened the world up to us and allowed us to explore, settle, and kill each other on scales never seen before. The Second Agricultural Revolution (100 years ago) allowed for mass production of food and huge expansion of population. The Second Industrial Revolution (100 years ago) gave us mass manufacturing and electricity. The Third Industrial Revolution (50 years ago) gave us computer, semi-conductors, and the internet. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (now) is changing everything across every aspect of our lives. Schwab’s book identifies the following as being the key technologies of the new world we are entering.
1) Extended Digital Tech including quantum computing, blockchain and distributed ledger tech, the internet of things, and big data crunching algorithms.
2) Changing the Physical World with artificial intelligence and robotics using advanced materials, 3-D printing, and and drones.
3) Alteration of Human Beings through biotechnologies, neurotechnologies, and through virtual and augmented realities.
4) Integrating our environment through clean energy, storage and transmission. Also geo-engineering on both Earth and other planets as well as space technology itself.
After reading this book – it becomes clear that the most immediate threat is that of social upheaval as the need for human workers becomes less through automation, artificial intelligence, and (to some extent) the problem of what to do with all the people who will be using up the resources of the planet. The intent of this book was to both show the coming technology and to let stakeholders know what they can do to make sure that the future is based on a human rights framework that has important human values built into it. We are moving very quickly and the ground we are covering is totally uncharted. We will make many mistakes. Schwab is trying to help us make less of them.
This book dovetailed nicely after reading Andrew Yang’s The War on Normal People – one thing is for sure. Automation is coming and your job is probably not going to last very much longer – no matter what your job is. We are all walking around with super computers in our pockets that are recording data all the time – that data is being used for many purposes. The way that data is used and sorted is key to what happens to us in the future – there are positive and negative outcomes attached to that. Blockchain is much more than jsut cryptocurrency and Bitcoin – it is a revolutionary tech that will change the way business gets done. In fact, it already is. The internet of things on the other hand is one of the ways that our pocket super computers and the quantum computers of the future will be gathering data about us and making decisions for us. Our shoes, clothing, cookware, and more will be gathering data – not just our phones, TVs, cars, and refrigerators.
I was pretty aware of automation technology in the form of robots and A.I. The idea of advanced materials and automated 3-D printing sort of blew my mind, however. Imagine every city or every house having a Star Trek style fabricator where you simply say ‘computer make a pork chop’ or ‘computer make a picture hook’ or ‘computer make a new part for my VW van’ and it either appears in the 3-D printer several minutes later or arrives by drone a few hours later. Not science fiction any longer. It’s happening and it is eliminating the need for warehouses, trucks and truckers, and stores on a massive scale.
The next section on biotechnology, neurotechnology and altered realities also was a bit of an eye opener. Essentially, I’ve been thinking of gene editing for a while now as a way to cure disease and fix our problems – I’ve read about the ideas of giving us new abilities and physical features but never really considered it viable – now though – these things are happening. The biggest opportunity/threat here is the integration of our minds/bodies with advanced A.I and robotics – we will, very shortly – almost certainly stop being humans as we have been. We will be something different. The perfection of artificial and augmented realities will also expand our world to horizons far beyond what that of Columbus and the colonization of the Americas did.
Finally, there are the ways we are changing the planet and our opportunities in space. We are and have been for a long time – destroying our evnvironment, wiping out the biodiversity of the planet, and giving ourselves the illusion of wealth while we destroy the only true wealth we have. The advent of the fourth industrial revolution has given us tools for accelerating this process or alternatively for reversing it. In addition the death of fossil fuels and the birth of clean, renewable energy are opportunties that can make the world a better place or a worse one. Finally, there is the development of space which the book touches on a little bit.
I bought this book to learn more about the technologies. It covered that but mostly the book was about what we as individuals, companies, governments, or individuals can do to deal with the change and to help bring it about in a way that benefits human values. I appreciated this information. I recommend that anyone read this book – it’s readable but not easy or particularly fun. It will educate you. It was compiled from over 200 individuals contributing information over an 18 month period.