4 challenges, opportunities and trends of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

A discussion of some of the challenges, opportunities and trends anticipated during the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which we are currently experiencing.

Whether you realise it or not, we are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Industry 4.0. The First Industrial Revolution occurred in the late 1700s when steam and water power were harnessed to mechanise production. With the invention of electricity in late 1800s, mass production ushered in the Second Industrial Revolution. In the 1960s, electronics and IT led to automation of processes, which drove the Third Industrial Revolution. With the fourth revolution, multiple technologies are converging to address and blur “the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres” (Source: World Economic Forum).

In world history, the rate of technological change and development we are experiencing currently has been unprecedented. In addition to the exponential growth in computer processing power, storage and the impact of the Internet, we are also witnessing the global proliferation of mobile/cellular phones, increased integration of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things across all segments of society, to highlight a few. Ultimately, we live in exciting times filled with new opportunities, but also fraught with challenges.

A key voice in the conversation on the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the World Economic Forum (WEF). At its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, last month, technology and its impact was frequently raised across a broad range of topics. The four points highlighted below, are a few of the challenges, opportunities and trends the WEF envisages with Industry 4.0.

Likely to raise global income levels and improved the quality of life

As occurred with its predecessors, Industry 4.0 will affect how we live and work. As technology continues to make life and living more convenient and increase the opportunities for wealth creation generally, it can also help to address some of the socio-economic challenges for those at the bottom of the pyramid.

Greater inequality also possible

Whilst many positives are expected from current technology and the associated disruption that is occurring, it is also prudent to consider the possibility that even greater inequality may also result. The demand for talent for high skill jobs, for corresponding high pay, when compared against low-skilled, low-paying (but still essential) jobs, may result in an even wider chasm in the job market, and a greater separation between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.

Evolving supply- and demand-side approaches and behavior

The new technologies of today are having an impact across virtually all industries, and are changing the systems and processes used – end to end – to supply of goods and services to consumers. Businesses are required to be more lean and agile, and more responsive to their customers, especially as competition between firms (and market dynamics) has become even more aggressive.

On the demand side, consumer behavior and expectations are also changing. Increasingly, consumers are engaging businesses and conducting commercial transactions electronically, especially on mobile and portable devices. Further, they expect that products and services can be tailored to their needs, which in turn is driving innovation among businesses.

Out-dated regulations and regulatory processes

However, in order for the impact of Industry 4.0 to be fully experienced globally, it must be underpinned by progressive, relevant and timely policies and regulation. To a considerable degree, countries worldwide are still grappling with the changes that today’s technologies are ushering in, for example, in term of citizen engagement, accountability and transparency, and government processes. Governments are now required to become more responsive and adaptable to the changing landscape, which still evolving, and may even accelerate in the future.


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