The 18th century saw steam and water power incredible production equipment that changed how the Western world created its goods and infrastructure. In the following century, electricity and the mass production of goods changed the way much of the world consumed and went about their daily lives, paving the way for the electronics, IT, and automated production shifts in the 20th century. Today, the world is transitioning into the fourth Industrial Revolution: the emergence of cyber-physical systems that are—as the World Economic Forum put it—…”blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” The question is no longer if cyber-physical systems will reshape global business and the human population, but how they will continue to transmute both.
How the Fourth Industrial Revolution is Already Reshaping Global Business
Businesses that thrive are ones that embrace or generate technological progress, whether through seemingly small changes such as implementing the latest software to improve day-to-day tasks, or by mammoth leaps like utilizing or advancing current artificial intelligence technology. The latter is already changing the way some companies operate: software and robots that not only work for humans but with humans; 3D printing that allows businesses to create and test product prototypes; and medical professionals who rely on IBM’s Watson to interact with, diagnose, and treat patients.
But businesses cannot (currently) operate without one key component: humans. Historically, each Industrial Revolution has spurred and improved development, leading to longer life expectancies and improved health and living conditions. The products that are created through new technologies have in each Revolution required humans’ operation, leading to increased income per capita, improved working conditions, and jobs that, prior to each Revolution, did not exist. While there is grounded concern that AI will eliminate certain jobs, AI is also expected to replace roughly as many jobs as it removes, albeit in different sectors. This is particularly true for certain sectors like health and social services, and sectors/jobs that cannot be predicted due to the rate at which AI technology is changing—and is projected to keep changing.
AI and an Aging Population
Japan has long been known for its technological advances—including its current robotics and AI industries. Recently, researchers at two Japanese national research institutes published findings that revealed AI technology detected early stage stomach cancer with high accuracy. The paper joins the ranks of roughly 11,700 other published papers on the subject, with the Times Higher Education ranking Japan third in terms of papers published on AI.
The emergence and implementation of AI in Japan cannot be underappreciated for a country that is coming to terms with its aging population that will in the coming years become more reliant on AI keep its economy churning. Today, it is projected that 55% of jobs in Japan could be automated. The number is even greater for the manufacturing sector; 71% of jobs could potentially become automated. If Japan continues to develop and invest in its AI sector, it will likely surpass other developed countries that are investing in AI, including the UK, Germany, China, and the United States.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a Global Revolution
What distinguishes the fourth Industrial Revolution from its predecessors is that it is now a global revolution. The previous three Revolutions were begun and largely centralized in Western nations that exported their technologies and production mechanisms to then-undeveloped countries that are, by the Western definition, now developed or developing.
While developed countries are still leading the way in AI and advanced technologies implementation, developing nations will likely soon benefit from these advances; earlier this year, Google announced that it would open its next AI research center in Ghana, and India’s prime minister announced in July that it will work with the five BRICS nations to further develop fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. That both private and public sectors are keen on investing in cyber-physical technologies promises that, unlike the previous three Industrial Revolutions, the fourth will take place across each continent.