Thoughts of an older guy: the 4th Industrial Revolution

As a youngster living in South Wales, I remember going on a school trip to Bristol Zoo; all the children lined up, walking to the station to climb on a steam locomotive. As it turned out, this was my only trip on the wonderful engineering masterpiece that was the steam train.

In many respects, this signalled the coming end to the first industrial revolution, which had started at the end of the eighteenth century. It was a period of great change; the steam locomotive, steamboats, roads and canals, and with growing private investment the rise of mechanised factories.

Moving forward to the present day I recently read a Tweet from Elon Musk that claimed that a monkey could play Pong with its mind; yes, a monkey literally playing a video game using an implanted neural chip. This is incredible information, which signals the potential for Neuralinks in the brain to control body/sensory neuron clusters, thus enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again. Similarly, there’s the platform known as the ‘meterverse’ that opens up the world of augmented and virtual reality to create opportunities – something that in my younger days would have been thought of simply as science fiction.

These examples provide a clear indication of the stupendous speed of change that has taken place from the end of the first industrial revolution to our technologically advanced age that is now rapidly entering the fourth industrial revolution.

In between, we’ve seen a second industrial revolution, which introduced electricity and mass production, such as those seen in the production lines that many of us know and remember were used to produce automobiles such as the Ford Model T. These production lines required high levels of labour and skilled engineers and produced a wide variety of products at prices that led to an explosion in consumption.

The third industrial revolution is a period many of us have lived through: that of the wide use of computers and automation. This is also known as the digital revolution with a move away from mechanical and analogue technology. This began in the second half of the 20th century and continues to the present day.

Where now?

Looking back at the development of the first, second and third industrial revolutions can be instructive but in many ways it cannot provide an effective indicator of what we can expect from the rapidly emerging generation of cyber physical systems, or Industry 4.0 as has become the generic term since it was first coined at the Hannover Fair in Germany in 2011.

We are entering into a period of where there will be an unprecedented speed of change; indeed, the fourth industrial revolution is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Its becoming abundantly clear that technology and digitisation are changing our world at an unbelievable speed and scale.

Below is a fishbone that visually helps simplify the elements of the fourth industrial revolution.

One of the greatest examples of change can be seen in a technology business that most people consider to be a car manufacturing company: Tesla.

The company was officially incorporated in 2003 and was in no way an overnight success; indeed, one might suggest it was more a case of the business being way ahead of its time. Elon Musk became the company’s CEO in 2008 and product architect, positions he still holds. Today, in 2021 Tesla is the most valuable automotive OEM in the world.

The self-driving car is no longer a mad scientist’s dream, its already a reality, made possible by technological advancements and the ‘internet of things’, connectivity with other vehicles and with its surrounding infrastructure.

Tesla believes that technology greatly improves the safety of their cars, they use a combination of passive and active safety and automated driver assistance. In various places in the world these vehicles are being tested and refined. To me, as a layman, these vehicles are actually extremely advanced computers that use artificial intelligence and interconnectivity to create a constantly evolving learning and improvement environment.

Autonomous vehicles are not confined to cars; there are trucks, drones, aircraft, boats, and submersibles all rapidly being developed and refined as sensors and artificial intelligence progresses. Autonomous vehicles will have a massive impact on all our lives and could lead to huge job displacement.

The world is changing at supersonic speed and leaders in business need to consider and apply plans to meet the major opportunities that are opening up almost daily.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means and how to respond. (n.d.). Retrieved 2 16, 2021, from
The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Klaus Schwab. 2017
The Future is Faster Than You Think
Peter H Diamandis and Steven Kotler. 2020.

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