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Countless organizations have produced lists ranking the various technologies that will drive the fourth industrial revolution. The scientific breakthroughs and the new technologies they generate seem limitless, unfolding on so many different fronts and in so many different places. They vary from:
Disrupting Jobs Demanding New Skills
Given the likely depth of this technological disruption, there is a pressing need to come up with more effective ways to help people develop new skills and stem job losses. During previous industrial revolutions, it has frequently taken decades to build the training systems and labor market institutions necessary to foster required new skillsets on a large scale. Given the pace of this industrial revolution, however, such a relatively comfortable interval may not be possible this time.
People losing jobs due to technology- or pandemic-related disruption must be helped to gain new skills.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is impacting livelihoods and generating demand for new skills. In the United Kingdom, for example, artificial intelligence and related technologies are poised to eliminate seven million jobs by 2038, though they are also expected to create about 7.2 million new jobs in the country over the same period - in healthcare, science, and education, according to a report published by PwC.
Workers in fields that are facing significant job reductions must be re-skilled and provided with viable job transitions. And, any effort aimed at closing the skills gap will need to be grounded in a solid understanding of a particular country’s or industry’s current skills base - and of its changing requirements. Anticipating and preparing for future skills requirements will be critical for everyone.
Business model disruptions will have a profound impact on the employment landscape in many sectors, leading to similarly significant and simultaneous job creation and elimination, potentially heightened productivity, and wider gaps between existing skills and those most desired.
In order to successfully meet this challenge, businesses will have to recognize and invest in their people as a valuable asset, rather than see them as a potential liability. Many parts of the world are struggling with both seismic changes related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the COVID-19 pandemic, creating sizable knock-on effects. Skills gaps had already made labor markets less agile prior to the advent of the pandemic, and rates of job disruption are now only likely to become worse.
Meanwhile related regulatory and managerial challenges will only be exacerbated by gaps in knowledge. Real solutions will require that proactive talent management strategies be deployed by companies, alongside deep and sustained dialogue and collaboration with governments and education providers.
Whether focused on quantum biology or AI, cutting-edge development must contribute to solving humanity’s greatest challenges.
Technologies that help us push into as-yet-unexplored realms of biology, energy, computing, and intelligence may be essential for a healthy reset of the global economy in the wake of COVID-19. Whether it is through efforts to understand how quantum physics plays a role in natural energy and human consciousness (quantum biology), developing artificial intelligence that does not require excessive training data liable to inject human bias or even the study of how disease and disorders might be treated through an understanding of the chemistry of venom (genomics), the post-pandemic Great Reset could benefit greatly from the exploration of technology at its furthest frontiers.
These endeavors could not only help to rebuild in ways that emphasize sustainability and improve both human and environmental health, but also establish greater resilience in anticipation of future crises - by bolstering government services, enabling more efficient infrastructure including public transportation and sustainable energy systems, expanding educational opportunities, and fostering ways for businesses to develop services for their customers that create genuine, enduring value.
The use of big data and artificial intelligence to predict criminal activity raises multiple red flags related to cultural and racial bias, and the anticipated spread of lethal autonomous weapons calls for proactive efforts to bind them with some level of protective safeguards. We must take proactive steps to ensure that the adoption of any technology - be it 3D printing or satellites - does not enable the abuse of power, instil and aggravate systemic racism, expand wealth disparities, and rob the vulnerable of their livelihoods.
Frontier technologies requires careful and considered regulation and oversight, if they are to contribute to the greater good. A respect for human dignity, a concerted effort to create inclusive benefits attainable for anyone regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity, and legitimate attempts to establish trust must drive any technology development or regulatory effort. Some of the frontier technologies now on the horizon present grave threats. Digital phenotyping, or using computer systems to profile someone’s physical or mental health, for example, raises significant privacy issues and could be subject to misuse.
Technology Access and Inclusion
Promoting the effective economic, social, and political integration of migrants can boost prosperity
The effective integration of migrants can lead to economic, social, and security benefits for everyone - not just for migrant communities. There should be a fuller recognition of successful integration policies and programs in some countries (such as traditional immigration countries like Australia, Canada, and the US) - and of the ongoing challenges in other countries (including some European Union members).
There has been greater recognition in recent years of the positive role that local governments can play in attracting and integrating migrants - both those who have moved within their country, as well as internationally. The innovative use of technology, often developed by migrants themselves, has helped to support effective integration services.
The German government, for example, implemented its “Asyl Online” digital platform to more efficiently transfer information among authorities involved in processing applicants for asylum. Germany provides an example of the irregular patterns of large-scale displacement and migration; the country received nearly 750,000 applications for asylum in 2016, which fell to 165,938 by 2019. Such irregularity has fed concerns about inadequate integration policies and the risks they pose to both migrants and receiving communities. Inadequate integration can potentially bolster public support for far-right, anti-immigration political efforts, for example, which in turn makes it more difficult to promote a balanced narrative about migration. Other extreme, but nevertheless potential risks include the religious radicalization of second- and third-generation migrants who have been marginalized in host societies due to poor integration efforts.
The Migrant Integration Policy Index, published in 2017, measured policies for integrating migrants in EU member states and other countries including the US, Canada, and Japan. Some key findings of the 2015 index included an average six-percentage-point decline in employment among non-EU citizens in the EU between 2008 and 2014, coupled with a four-percentage-point increase in their risk of poverty or social exclusion over the same period - to a level twice that of EU citizens. Sweden ranked first on the 2015 index, with a score of 78 (a score of 100 indicated the most favorable possible environment for migrants), while the US ranked 9th, the UK was 15th, and Turkey came in last.
Ethics and Identity
‘General purpose’ technologies like artificial intelligence can have profound consequences for society. Common areas of focus include national systems for research funding, systems for awarding and protecting patents (which are sometimes state-subsidized), improvement in translating university research into value for the private sector, and tax incentives for innovative firms (such as R&D tax credits, or special tax regimes for revenue derived from the intellectual property).
Some innovation - like the development of new pharmaceuticals - has an obvious and direct link to novel scientific research. Other types may result from using existing technology in new ways, or even from developments in unrelated fields. Many companies behind the sharing economy, for example, are essentially offshoots of existing internet and mobile technologies. While certain emerging technologies like drones or 3D printing may create new markets and disrupt existing networks, technical innovation in the form of so-called "general purpose" technologies has the potential to disrupt entire groups of industries; examples have included the steam engine, the automobile, the computer, the internet and, potentially, artificial intelligence - all of which have had profound consequences for society. Since research and development is key, policy-makers have been keen to focus on ways in which they can be improved.
Advances that might have once been confined to digital systems, like the application of cryptography to blockchain technology to create programmable, secure, and distributed records, are also now having an impact in the real world - in terms of managing land records, for example, or tracking deforestation.
The physical and biological worlds are merging partly due to the creation of new materials designed to emulate the biological world. The related discovery of new classes of recyclable, thermosetting polymers (plastics) called polyhexahydrotriazines is a major step towards a more sustainable economy, for example. New materials are now routinely being used in medical implants, for tissue engineering, and for the creation of artificial organs - and 3D printing is increasingly being used to create customized structures. The biological and digital worlds overlap most controversially in the world of genetic engineering.
Widely accessible and affordable gene sequencing and editing systems, such as CRISPR/Cas9, make it possible to reliably and precisely remove or replace sequences in the genomes of both plants and animals. The biological and digital worlds are also overlapping in the form of sensors used to monitor health and behavior and to understand and influence brain activity.
How should we deal with machines that have human-like qualities?
It has become increasingly evident that artificial intelligence systems can perpetuate the historic biases of the humans creating them, discriminate, and generally be used in ways that threaten human rights and democratic values. For example, image recognition technologies can mis-categorize Black faces, sentencing algorithms discriminate against Black defendants, and chatbots can easily adopt racist and misogynistic language, according to a report published by the AI Now Institute in 2019.
Innovation triggered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, whether related to synthetic biology, quantum computing, or artificial intelligence, is redefining what it means to be human by pushing the limits of lifespan, health, and cognition in ways once confined to science fiction. As new discoveries are made, a related moral and ethical discussion is critical if people are going to be able to appropriately respond to phenomena like prolonged life, gene editing, and memory extraction.
Many other questions are likely to arise related to human augmentation, and to how societies should deal with machines that have human-like qualities and an ability to autonomously make life-or-death decisions. Related privacy, data security, and identity issues are becoming increasingly important for policy-makers, regulators, and corporate leaders.
There are also growing concerns that as the Fourth Industrial Revolution deepens our individual and collective relationships with technology, it may also negatively affect social skills - like the ability to empathize. As face-to-face conversation is crowded out by online interaction, there are fears that people will begin to struggle to listen, make eye contact, or accurately read body language.
The biological domain in particular poses a range of ethical challenges when it comes to regulation and social norms. New technologies present questions about what it means to be human, what information about personal health should be shared, and what rights and responsibilities we have in regard to altering the genetic code of future generations. There is a need to ensure that this industrial revolution fosters individualism and humanity, and is an empowering force that views technology as a tool to be made by people and for people. Individuals and organizations therefore need to take collective responsibility for fostering innovation that genuinely serves the public interest.
Agile Technology Governance
Agency and Trust
Some governments will be able to reinvent themselves to better understand what they are regulating. Governments making this transition will be forced to entirely change their approaches to creating and enforcing the regulation, not least in order to safely stimulate rather than stymie innovation. These governments may have to create brand-new instruments to cope with the spread of new technologies, either by nurturing internal expertise or working together with the private sector. Those that are agile will be able to find ways to reinvent themselves in order to better understand what it is they are regulating - and to steer technological development in ways that improve the state of the world for everyone.
Governments may have to reinvent the ways that they operate in order to keep pace with technology. Powerful digital tools like artificial intelligence are swiftly disintermediating entire markets - taking influence away from traditional regulators and unskilled workers, and increasingly handing it over to corporations and skilled labour. Governments everywhere are meanwhile being challenged to move beyond simply understanding major technological advances to be able to mitigate, shape, and harness them in order to govern better - that is, to become more accessible, transparent, and trustworthy.
Faster 5G mobile networks promise to only make digital communication more ubiquitous while increasing processing power and storage capacity are boosting the scope of knowledge immediately available to just about any computer user. When coupled with the increased availability and quality of data, communicated through increasingly rich and varied visualizations and other analytic techniques, these trends have the potential to fundamentally reshape communication, news reporting, and public services - in ways that can respond more directly to the needs of the public. But there are also serious related risks that need to be managed.
New and evolving rules of the road such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which came into effect in 2018, will be critical for managing the consequences of such threats - but will also introduce their own new complexities to governing. WEF’s Global Cyber Security Outlook 2022, provides an in-depth analysis of the challenges that security leaders are dealing with, the approaches they are taking to stay ahead of cybercriminals, and the measures they are implementing to enhance cyber resilience not only within their organizations but also within the wider ecosystem.
Traditionally, governments or banks have played the role of “trust anchor” for financial transactions, though emerging digital identity models involve new actors. For example, the pharmacy startup Capsule referred to as an “Uber for drugs,” relies on doctors as a source of trust when filling e-prescriptions for delivery. Several related governance efforts exist, such as the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework and the European Union’s implementation of an ethical AI strategy. The ability to provide security and agency over personal data could become a competitive differentiator.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution has been built on a foundation of data as a source of both innovation and governance. While giving people more agency over their data can potentially improve their relationships with the institutions they must rely on daily, the use of biometrics, facial recognition, and multi-factor authentication (verifying a user with multiple credentials) can help establish trust - something that has become increasingly scarce as cybercrime and the commercial exploitation of personal data increase. The same technology that can improves verification can deplete trust, however; artificial intelligence, for example, can be vulnerable to manipulation and the biases of its human programmers.
However, the monopolization of technology platforms used for search and social media - and pervasive personal data gathering - complicate efforts to win digital trust. According to poll results published by the Pew Research Center in 2018, nearly half of American respondents did not trust the government to protect their personal data, and 51% did not trust social media companies to do so either.
People are generally demanding more agency over their data, and some technology companies and governments are exploring decentralized identity systems that could ultimately empower users; Microsoft, Accenture, and Mastercard have announced plans to invest in decentralized models, for example, and Malta’s government developed a way for educational institutions to issue blockchain-based academic credentials that are owned by students, portable, and instantly verifiable. By the year 2022, about 150 million people will have blockchain-based identities, according to IDC, even though the technology is still at a relatively early stage of development.
While internet users expect personalized experiences, they also expect security and agency over personal data - something that could become a competitive differentiator among companies and organizations. Stakeholders in every industry should promote the stewardship of identity practices that place the user at the center of systems, create collaborative governance mechanisms, and take interactions between human and non-human identities into consideration.with the
FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents a fundamental change in the ways that we live and work. It promises shared prosperity and heralds smart solutions to the world’s most intractable challenges. However, its exponential pace often overwhelms existing institutions, leaving societies exposed to uncontrolled risks and unhealthy imbalances, while deprived of unprecedented opportunities.
It is a new chapter in human development, enabled by advances that are commensurate with those of the first, second and third industrial revolutions - merging the physical, digital, and biological worlds and fusing technologies in
ways that create both promise and peril.
This shapes new policies and strategies in areas such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and digital assets, the internet of things or autonomous vehicles, and enables agile implementation and iteration via its fast-growing network of national and sub-national centers.
The speed, breadth, and depth of this revolution has forced us to rethink how countries should develop, how organizations create value, and how people from all walks of life can benefit from innovation. Now, as the world grapples with COVID-19, there is an opportunity to further embrace this revolution in ways that create a more inclusive, human-centered global economy.
Also known as Industry 4.0, refers to the marriage of physical assets and advanced digital technologies—the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), robots, drones, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, cloud
computing, nanotechnology, and more—that communicate, analyze, and act upon information, enabling organizations, consumers, and society to
be more flexible and responsive and make more intelligent, data-driven decisions.
Some associate these advanced technologies mainly with efficiency, cost cutting, and profit maximizing. But the companies that are succeeding in this era are those that understand technology can help in all areas of their businesses, including overall business strategy, workforce and talent strategies, societal impact, and, of course, technological operations. We found that some companies, particularly those with comprehensive Industry 4.0 strategies, are performing well while others lag behind.
Read more about the Fourth Industrial Revolution as presented by WEF and Deloitte here.