4th industrial revolution – Age of Convergence

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Robotics and AI converging to enhance human experience
We are at the dawn of the biggest, fastest and most impactful transformation in human history. Given its incredible opportunities and scale of disruption, it is critical for all of us to know the nine key tenets of these changes, start preparing ourselves to lead these changes as applicable in our own world and succeed.

Fourth industrial revolution unlike the prior three, will be broad based in its scale where different technology trends converge to bring results previously unthinkable. The pace of change will be at times scary given our ability to simulate accurately and rapidly prototype.

Progress as we know happens through a simple three step process, a) analyse the problem, b) develop solutions, c) operationalise and optimise. Let’s look at how some of the major technology trends will converge for the next phase of tremendous progress; a quantum leap for humanity.

Analysing the problem, is less of a problem now given these three recent trends:

Machine Learning and big data solutions are being applied to analyse vast amounts of data (created over the past decades), helping us to discover finer nuances of big problems as well as to recognize problems we were not previously aware of. From analysing machine performance, economic trends, weather patterns, environmental data, animal behavior, human habits and many more, we understand problems a lot better today than ever before.

Gaming and expansion of human analytical skills – More than 30,000 years of time is spent every day playing digital games! Strategy based games are scaling up the analytical skills of gamers all around the world, which helps them succeed in managing and contributing in the digital economy. Many simulation and analytical problems are being iterated in the gaming world to identify solutions and validate human reactions in addition to scaling solutions like augmented reality.

Global knowledge penetration with internet-based learning is converting enthusiasts into experts at an unprecedented scale. MOOC learning platforms such as Udacity, Coursera, Udemy and edX are bringing best of academic expertise virtually to interested learners everywhere. Problem analysis, previously limited to an exclusive few, is now open to online communities of passionate enthusiasts from all places and of all ages, resulting in brilliant solutions coming from unexpected sources.

Developing solutions without the barriers of the past and rapidly prototyping is possible now.

Nanotechnology is essentially taking manufacturing to subatomic levels and building materials without the weakness of materials used today. Beyond the well-known results in silicon chips, more recent examples of nanotechnology products are waterproof and odorless clothes which can also be bullet proof, highly heat resistant superconductors as thin as paper while being 250x stronger than steel, and many more. Essentially products of the future need not have to consider many of the limitations of today.

Biotechnology is building solutions to support healthy living and human body augmentation. DNA editing to prevent genetic diseases, commercially building living tissues, precise drug delivery using nanobots, cybernetic implants/extensions connected to brain are some of the early successes getting ready to be pivoted. Living tissues produced by Organovo, has already reduced the time taken for clinical trials significantly while generating data for making transplant organs. Research on brain behavior, science of happiness and cybernetics will strive for happier augmented versions of us!

3D printing will significantly help in rapid prototyping and operationalising highly customized solutions. Having made great progress in plastic and metal-based 3D printing, the mechanics here can be applied to solutions across any industry like construction, fashion, health, electronics and others. Soon our lives will take an incredible turn when 3D printers will become a standard consumer electronics product. Think of all the supply chain, personalizing, and product upgrade opportunities here!

Operationalising innovative solutions and continuously optimizing would require these to succeed:

Quantum computing along with Graphene chips will take computing power to the next level to manage the exponential data generated by IoT, medical and other increasingly smart devices. Scale of computing power will ensure better end to end integration of Analyse-Solve-Operationalise loop, resulting in much faster product and service upgrades. Cross platform integration will allow upstream/downstream solutions to converge for a holistic human experience.

AI based software robotics will transform business services sector by seamlessly enabling global roll-outs of new products/solutions, analysing real-time market response, automating transaction processing, and making customer service proactive – business will call the customer before something breaks! Given that most of the work in business services sector is rules based, the disruption here will be more significant than the disruption in manufacturing sector..

Blockchain will be the ledger which connects the incredibly diverse and distributed information streams of the future. While the technology as we know it today is still in its infancy, the early movers have proven that this is the only validated solution available today capable of the rigorous information demands of the 4th industrial revolution to stay secure, holistic, independent and connected.

While I have classified these 9 technologies primarily into three steps, they will converge across all steps and play in multiple roles.

Risks associate with these changes are too many to speak of in this article.

While industrial jobs replaced farming jobs, and service sector grew to replace jobs lost to industrial robotics, its hard to predict which sector will emerge to absorb the job losses of the 4th industrial revolution. There are other areas of concerns such as crime/defense usage, privacy, energy needs, environmental concerns, inadequately tested solutions pivoted, etc that are hard to fathom at this stage. Maybe the biggest risk of all would be that the problems in such a converged complex eco system would be too hard for human comprehension!

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