Make way for the fourth Industrial Revolution.
Following the dawn of steam power, mass production and IT, this dramatic era is characterised by the blurring of lines between the physical, digital and biological worlds. It’s both overwhelming and exciting at the same time. Pessimists warn of devastating job losses, the end of civil society as we know it and interference with Mother Nature to the point of no return. But history shows us that each Industrial Revolution has served to improve the way we work and live. I firmly believe this post-digital revolution is an amazing opportunity, if we harness technology and apply morals and ethics to product development. Rather than demotion and destruction by robots, this revolution will bring people worldwide closer together, fulfilled by rewarding careers and freedom.
Unemployment fears during previous Industrial Revolutions were rife, but actually jobs respond and adapt to new markets — they don’t just disappear. UK unemployment has been falling since the 1970s despite the robots that have moved onto our turf (with many more on the horizon). It’s fair to say that hundreds of thousands of today’s jobs will be displaced as scientists and engineers discover ways to automate procedures that are currently performed by humans, including growth and reproduction. It might sound like a sci-fi film with a bad ending, but hear me out — it’s a good thing. With robotics competently and ethically completing time-consuming, risky, repetitive, remedial or biological tasks, we will be freed up and empowered to exploit our creativity and problem solving. Humans are intelligent and need space to innovate. 3D printing is already saving and improving lives for those coping with illness, disease or special needs.
The global economy will need humans who understand the emerging technologies including virtual reality, automation, AI, blockchain, Big Data and the Internet of Things, plus be able to create brand new products and services out of these.
Employment changes afoot.
Just like a ‘job for life’ that now ceases to exist, the 9–5 is likely to become an outdated notion, with the evolution of a more fluid, on-demand workforce. This gig economy allows people flexibility and choice to undertake new roles at different organisations, in different time zones, collaborate, learn and discover their passions and expertise, using these to succeed and ultimately be happier. The average Human Resources department may employ fewer humans in certain areas but will harness their intelligence in creating automotive methods to attract, recruit and manage staff. The HR sector is already using algorithms and AI to automate the matching of people’s skills and experience with roles, screening candidates and for psychometric testing. Other sectors will follow suit. Teachers would no doubt revel in assistance from automated marking, giving them more time in class and also more leisure time, and tackling the teacher shortage. AI tutoring would be capable of presenting a theory, interpreting each pupil’s comprehension and cognitive style then adapting the lesson on an individual basis. Futuristic assessments such as personalised exam papers serving questions more flexibly, with video or simulation for example, would assist students alienated by traditional examination methods.
Parity may be established for those with impairments by physical augmentation via robotics or utilising new forms of interaction supported by machine learning. This is turn will inspire design for optimum user experience that benefits everyone.
Career paths of the future
Today’s primary school children will enter a labour market that is on the brink of exponential and untellable growth. We can only fantasise about the exciting jobs that will exist in a few years but my youngest son’s aspiration to be a spaceman may well become a standard career choice as more of the universe becomes penetrable. With sophisticated technology inherent in everyday lives, the gender gap will narrow or even close with more girls studying and working in STEM industries by default as well as through choice. Those from disadvantaged or remote backgrounds will benefit from improved access to education and knowledge and a levelled playing field where entrepreneurship and experimentation can prove as valuable as a university degree. Ordinary people with bright ideas can reach a global online audience and grow their own success.
Instead of carving out a siloed society, the next Industrial Revolution will bring people closer, whether they are collaborating on work or community projects or enjoying more free time together. Thanks to labour-saving devices, connectivity and flexible work options, people will have more disposable time, enhancing mental and physical well-being.
Automated travel will revolutionise getting from A to B, such as on-demand transport and driverless cars, which could even be centrally controlled rather than privately owned. Status would no longer be based on wealth and material items but on morals and ethics. Current infrastructure will adapt, leading to the redesign of smart (connected) living spaces to create sustainable habitats for humans, plants and wildlife with clean air and comfortable, affordable homes for all. Whilst robots and automation would play a major part, we will still require architects, landscapers, engineers and environmental specialists to name a few — plus a whole host of jobs to manage technology, some of which we don’t yet know about. Governments must embrace the fourth Industrial Revolution by funding training for new technologies (fintech, biotech) and policy-making to protect citizens from exploitation or immoral uses of technology. There is talk of us heading towards fully automated luxury communism where machines do the bulk of work instead of humans, automated resources are communally owned, and we all live as time-rich kings and queens. And what about politicians and government being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence? Well, that’s another theory entirely and an interesting area for discussion.
I concur there is a danger of misuse or misunderstanding of new technologies that could spiral beyond our own control, but the revolution is going to happen — it’s already started. To this end, technology should focus on passion, people and positivity and not purely economical gain. As with all areas of design we should be questioning ourselves on the justification and reasoning behind a product or idea and what good it is doing.
The fourth Industrial Revolution is capable of distributing fairness of wealth, improving quality of life and saving the planet for future generations. Creativity, problem solving and kindness will be able to flow freely as robots, AI and automation release us to pursue our strengths and goals. I am looking forward to this all coming to fruition.