The next Industrial Revolution or the Second Machine Age

· Smart machines are displacing much of the human workforce (this includes the more cognitive professional jobs)

· Robotics, artificial intelligence and data analysis have gone from "laughably bad" to "very good"; we are at an inflection point with profound consequences. Some examples:

- Google's driverless car which drove more than 200,000 km on roads without a crash

- Watson, the IBM supercomputer, that defeated everybody on a US quiz show called Jeopardy

- improving speech recognition and its links with the development of artificial intelligence

- progress on usefulness of big data analysis

· Initially it was thought that automation, etc would have most impact on repetitive, manual jobs but robotics, artificial intelligence and data analysis are having an effect on

"...higher-level human activities are easier to mimic than basic functions. It is easier, for example, to create an algorithm that performs thousands of advanced mathematical calculations in a few seconds than one that can make up a simple story. Robots build cars and tablets but they cannot make the bed or tend the garden better than humans..."

Hans Moravec as quoted by Robert McDermott, 2014

· Is the second industrial revolution or the second machine age upon us?

Some people claim that we are going through an era like the Industrial Revolution owing to impacts of

i) Technology, ie Internet, eg social media (world-wide 24/7 communications, etc), web (e-business, etc), globalisation (global collaboration in science, innovation and technology plus widespread availability of data and information), digitalisation (things that were once scarce are becoming abundant and making goods cheaper), mobile phones (linking everybody to everything), information/sharing economy (better use of resources and decision-making, etc), data analysis (unlimited data availability to anyone), barcodes, cash machines (money available 24/7 anywhere), personal computers, education (online and individualised), medicine (disease diagnosis and treatment), etc

(NB need to be careful of information overload but this will provide opportunities for better decisions and greater freedom)

· With the internet (including digitalisation, web, telecommunications, social media, etc) we are going through a unique period in history that is equivalent to the impact of the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment & the Industrial Revolution combined.

· These eras produced turmoil & upheaval.

· This is happening with the internet as it is allowing previously disenfranchised groups to become connected to each other & world-wide communities; plus accepted business models are consequently under threat.

· Some implications of the internet's power include like its impact on social organization: it is transforming the way governments, businesses, extremists, etc can capture and use information to their advantage, and this has impacts for issues like privacy, rights to data, global alliances, etc

- it is estimated that 80+ percent of people in Africa have mobile phones (first quarter 2013); African smart phone penetration is 20% and expected to explode.

- Facebook is challenging China the world's largest organised community; its users are not constrained by borders or societal fragmentation, etc

- January 2014 flash mob political protests in Brazilian malls

- crowds that assembled in Egypt's Tahrir Square

- extremist groups successfully attracting recruits in Syria and Iraq

- online education is democratising education

- employment is now available outside traditional workplaces and providing new opportunities for the disabled and elderly, etc

"...Just as previous technological revolutions nearly eliminated entire classes of field workers, labourers and craftsmen, and now will target white-collar jobs aswell..."

David Rothkopf, 2014

- data flows are becoming as important to competitive success as capital flows

- supply chains are changing; eg 3-D printing will allow manufacturing from home

- neuroscience and biotech developments are challenging traditional ways of looking at mental health, crime, life expectancy, bioethics, healthcare, etc

· All this is increasing productivity but adding volatility to the way we live and the political process.

ii) Increasing number of women in managerial roles that traditionally belonged to men (traditional roles of men and women in society are changing; technology is enabling more people to work from home, etc)

iii) Automation, eg more jobs/professions, etc being replaced by machines (including computers), etc and leading to artificial intelligence (this is driven by the exponential growth of computing power); algorithms are replacing professionals like traders, journalists, book critics, etc

iv) Scientific research breakthroughs, eg medicine (human gene project, cancer medicines, individualised treatments, etc), greater collaboration across different disciplines (eg genetics, pharmacy, engineering, medicine, etc) nanotechnology, space exploration, agriculture, energy, transportation, etc


i) To achieve another industrial revolution, the new innovations and technologies must transform the whole of the economy, not just an industry. For example, first Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century occurred when

- Thomas Edison invented the first properly working light bulb (resulted in light, air-conditioned buildings , service economy, etc;

- Karl Benz built the first reliable internal combustion engine (resulted in development of motor vehicles, highways, wholesale distribution networks, etc);

- Guglielmo Marconi and David Hughes sent a wireless signal (better and quicker communications, etc)

plus huge improvements in public health


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