We’re still in the computerised Third Industrial Revolution, but that high-tech sound you can hear is the Fourth Industrial Revolution coming to change the way everyone does business. Ready for Industry 4.0?
Dr Ian Oppermann can envisage a day when governments use sophisticated 3D printers to roll out their latest fleets of navy submarines.
“They could be designed in France, Germany, wherever,” says Oppermann, the chief data scientist at the NSW Data Analytics Centre in Sydney.
“Then they could be shipped as a digital file to Australia, you could print out the parts you need for the submarine in, say, South Australia and use blockchain to validate the contract and automate payment.
“The only time anything really exists in the physical world is when you are actually printing the submarine parts and building and testing them. Everything else is digital.”
While he concedes there is still some way to go before 3D printers can handle such large manufacturing projects, Oppermann notes that they are already being used for making bionic eyes, prosthetics and even organic matter such as hamburgers.
“It’s still quite expensive compared with traditional manufacturing techniques, but we’ve now reached the point where we are able to do things we’ve never been able to do before.”
Such 3D advances are just a small component of what Professor Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, labels the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a transformation that he suggests in its scale, scope and complexity “will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before”.
From mobile supercomputing and robotics to genetic editing and nanotechnology, dramatic change is occurring at warp speed. While previous industrial revolutions replaced animal power with mechanical and electrical engines and opened the way for factories and mass production, this new era is marked by dramatic advances in technology that are affecting all industries and economies.
These new technologies are changing the way people live and work, from driverless cars, drones and virtual assistants to the power of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and advanced data analytics. Smart machines increasingly have the ability to visualise the entire production chain and make decisions on their own.
Harry Armstrong, senior researcher of technology futures at innovation foundation Nesta in the United Kingdom, believes one of the game changers is using AI and machine learning to supplement existing decision-making systems. Data sets can be combined and machine-learning systems can make sense of that data and information to build real intelligence.
“That’s the real power of this stuff,” he says.
Armstrong says algorithms will be “retrained” to enable the smartest possible processing of data, whether it is for business, human services, health or humanitarian aid outcomes. He cites a health initiative in Uganda, where Makerere University researchers use AI-enabled smartphones with a camera to automate the analysis of blood samples and detect deadly diseases such as malaria. Results are available in seconds and it overcomes problems caused by a lack of technicians.
“It’s something that machine learning is very good at – image recognition – and the impact [on health outcomes of such technology] is going to be really big,” Armstrong says.
Such an example, he believes, underlines the importance of using data for the power of good, noting that Facebook has come under fire for failing to protect the private data of its users and becoming the preferred platform for those who want to spread fake news and propaganda.
“There are always going to be unintended consequences and it’s quite important that there’s a certain amount of responsiveness, especially for those companies that are building these things,” Armstrong says. “They can’t absolve themselves from the responsibilities of these impacts.”Discover More