The Fourth Industrial Revolution Gains Momentum

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The Fourth Industrial Revolution Gains Momentum

A decade ago, the Trends editors were among the few forecasters proclaiming the coming of the Fourth Industrial Revolution; we called it the Deployment Phase of the Fifth Techno-Economic Revolution. 

Today, it seems almost every consulting firm, technology vendor, and think-tank has discovered this new era and is eager to help guide us through it. 

In fact, the Fourth Industrial Revolution was the main topic discussed by the world’s business elite when the World Economic Forum met this year in Davos, Switzerland.  CEOs, policy makers, and entrepreneurs increasingly understand that it represents the latest in a series of game-changing “industrial revolutions” centered around improvements in automation and connectivity.1, 2 

  • The First Industrial Revolution, as defined by the World Economic Forum, introduced basic industrial automation through machinery and then boosted intra-national connections through the building of bridges and railways. As explained in Ride The Wave by Fred Rogers and Richard Lalich, this period from around 1771 to 1870 actually represents two Techno-Economic Revolutions:  the Machine Revolution and the Railroad Revolution. 
  • According to the World Economic Forum, the Second Industrial Revolution began when automation fostered more efficient production and connectivity via the division of labor that enabled mass production, mass markets, and mass media. In this era, economies of scale were crucial to success.  As the Trends editors have demonstrated, this revolution, which ran from roughly 1870 to around 1970, actually encompassed two techno-economic revolutions:  the Steel Revolution and the Mass-Production Revolution.
  • The Third Industrial Revolution was propelled by the rise of the Digital Age, which created even more sophisticated automation and connectivity based on microprocessors and the Internet. This revolution began around 1971 and only recently lost momentum in the past ten to fifteen years, as the low-hanging fruit was picked and mass production institutions impeded progress.  In this era, economies of scope and network effects were crucial to success.  As the Trends editors have shown, the Third Industrial Revolution represents only the first half, or “Installation Phase,” of what we call the Fifth Techno-Economic Revolution.  In the Installation Phase of every techno-economic revolution, the big profits are made by the technology companies, whether we’re talking recently about chipmakers and software companies or the railroad companies, in an earlier era...

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