Times of Oman
A new era: The fourth industrial revolution
September 30, 2017 | 3:00 PM
by Mohammed Mahfoodh Al Ardhi Al Ardhi
Over the past decade, we have witnessed accelerated advancement in innovative fields that have led to the creation of some excellent technological products. However, we have simultaneously seen an increase in social disparity, a rise in poverty and unemployment, a breakdown of societies, and a surge in the number of conflicts that have rocked the world. - File photo
 
Sharelines

Today we hear the term ‘technological tsunami’ being used with increasing frequency to describe what we are experiencing as part of the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Although this is an exciting time for the world in terms of development, we need to prepare ourselves to deal with the aftermath of this growth, just as we would gear up to clear the debris left in the wake of a tsunami.

While the analogy might seem a little farfetched, the fact remains that it is always good to plan ahead for any dramatic change – this strategy will eventually mean optimising benefits and mitigating loss.

As Professor Klaus Schwab pointed out at the Word Economic Forum in 2016: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to empower individuals and communities, as it creates new opportunities for economic, social, and personal development. But it also could lead to the marginalisation of some groups, exacerbate inequality, create new security risks, and undermine human relationships.”



Over the past decade, we have witnessed accelerated advancement in innovative fields that have led to the creation of some excellent technological products. However, we have simultaneously seen an increase in social disparity, a rise in poverty and unemployment, a breakdown of societies, and a surge in the number of conflicts that have rocked the world.

We must acknowledge the fact that modern technology has remained, by and large, a tool for the elite. Wealthy countries boast a high smartphone penetration – over 70 per cent for the UAE, Sweden and Switzerland – while four billion people globally have no access to the internet, 1.3 billion survive without electricity, and a shocking two billion are deprived of a basic education.

This gap must be bridged as soon as possible in order for the global economy to enter the next stage of development without being delayed by a plethora of challenges – and without leaving any marginalised segment behind.

The obsessive tech-focus of an elite minority has led to overproduction and overconsumption of technology, impeding global economic growth, and bringing about massive financial crises. It will cause even more devastation if our world leaders do not revisit their concept and understanding of development and if they are not fully prepared for inevitable future scenarios.

In order to set the stage for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must undertake a critical review of global economic policy to ensure it factors in two main approaches – preventative and initiative-led.

A preventative approach would involve a clear definition of the function of technology preceding its development. This would help ensure that innovative products are only used for constructive purposes by the targeted group of professionals or consumers.

An initiative-led approach involves reaching an international consensus on the best way to utilise modern technology for the good of the greatest number of people. If technologies are used appropriately, they can provide answers to a spectrum of global issues, including climate change, food security, education and scientific research development, medical innovations to treat incurable diseases, and the expansion of government services.

Arriving at a consensus will enable us to put in place legislations that can have a transformational impact on next generations – our leaders of tomorrow. Preparing the youth to optimally manage the dynamic technological environment in which they live and work will not only include equipping their minds with knowledge and science and providing them with contemporary learning tools, but will equally require fortifying their social conscience and instilling humane values in them.

Educating the public is the most important way to ensure readiness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The move towards a more visionary and proactive approach to teaching must be introduced gradually among academics to guarantee its effectiveness.

Future investment trends should focus on solving problems such as global population growth and food security – for example, how to use genetic engineering to enhance seed and soil quality and significantly step up food production. Global investments in developing countries must, likewise, lay a greater emphasis on improving the quality of plant and livestock resources, and equip concerned individuals with an understanding of modern production methods while empowering them with access to relevant technologies.

Equally importantly, we need to efficiently employ technological advancements to modernise healthcare and raise its effectiveness in combating infectious and terminal illnesses.

At this stage, we urgently need to take a hard look at current economic sectors in light of the upcoming technological developments and their influence on production, management and marketing supply chains. Concerns have been raised worldwide that unemployment is inevitable as people increasingly relinquish their jobs to new-age artificial intelligence-driven prototypes.

Our perceptions of the economy must undergo a paradigm shift to remain truly relevant. Industries today are vastly different from their counterparts in the last century. Heralding the arrival of machines, the first industrial revolution created new job opportunities, developed people’s skills to fit large industrial transformations, and shaped a new form of social relations as well as scientific advancement and thought.

For the world to move in the right direction, we must encourage collective efforts from a well-rounded stream of professionals from diverse fields of expertise. Governments and statesmen from across the globe must unite to initiate a series of directives, along with relevant programs and tools, to ensure that we are adequately equipped to handle the technological deluge when it arrives.

- The author is the Executive Chairman of Investcorp and an International Advisor to the Brookings Instituition. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman

STAY UPDATED
Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to know all the latest news