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Review

Book review: ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ by Klaus Schwab

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By definition, revolution means covering new and unknown territory and the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ is no different. What can we expect and how can we best utilise the new technology at our disposal?

The ‘fourth industrial revolution’: everyone is talking about it, but no one seems to really know what it is. Hindsight is 20:20, of course, and maybe things will only really become clear once we’re hurled full force into the fifth industrial revolution, which I can only hope will in some way involve alien technology. If you’d asked the textile workers of the 19th century to define the industrial revolution they’d probably have struggled, too.

If you checked out our recent manufacturing supplement and read Steve Brambley’s piece on the fourth industrial revolution in which he asked, “The fourth industrial revolution – buzzword, concept or already happening?” you might be a little clearer about exactly what the term entails. If not then a new book written by Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World economic Forum, and published by Penguin, hopes to demystify the waters once and for all.  

While previous industrial revolutions brought about mechanisation, mass production, computer control and automation, the fourth industrial revolution is thought to be fundamentally different. Rather than focusing on a specific development or technology, the fourth industrial revolution encompasses a range of new and existing technologies that bring together the physical, digital and biological worlds and will be felt across all industries and economies.

It is thought that this dramatic leap forward in industrialisation will be felt across industries and will change the way that we live, work and relate to one another. In The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab introduces us to the key technologies driving this revolution and discusses the effect that these will have on governments, businesses and citizens as a whole.

The book serves as more than just an introduction to a conflated term, though, as Schwab seeks to address the many societal concerns over developments within industry, as well as outlining what can be done to ensure that we make the most of this exciting, but largely unknown, new phenomenon.

Intelligent machines play a big role in any conversation about the fourth industrial revolution. For many, this is one of the most concerning aspects of this new wave of industry, aggravating societal fears surrounding the role of the human workers in the workplace of the future. Schwab discusses this area in great detail, striving to dispel rumours that factory workers will inevitably be displaced by robotics, and instead looks into how industries are developing practical applications to work alongside traditional workers. The rise of intelligent machines does not mean that we face a man-versus-machine dilemma, he says. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, the fourth industrial revolution will serve to enhance human labour and cognition, meaning that leaders need to prepare workforce and develop education models to work with, and alongside, robotics.

The main concern that seems to arise from Schwab’s analysis is that of societal control of the new wave of industry. The fourth industrial revolution has the potential to transform the way we live and work, but success rests in the combined hands of organisations, citizens and governments. If organisations fail to adapt and governments fail to adequately employ and regulate new technologies, we see ourselves headed down a very different path. With this is mind, Schwab calls on leaders and citizens to “shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Schwab’s message is one of collaborative growth and how to best utilise the new technology at our disposal, while simultaneously addressing the challenges that go alongside - a sentiment echoed in the billing of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2016, which was held under the theme “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a fascinating, comprehensive and enlightening dialogue highlighting the many different benefits and challenges that humankind can expect as we move further forward into a new and unfamiliar wave of industrial development. Those with an interest in where we are headed as a society, but who find themselves overwhelmed by the synonymous talk of ‘Industry 4.0’, ‘smart factories’ and ‘factories of the future’ can hope to find their questions answered and concerns addressed by this illustrative and informative new publication.

‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ by Klaus Schwab is published by Penguin (£14.99, ISBN 9780241300756)

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