Last weekend the most powerful people on the planet gathered for the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. The great and the good met to discuss how they can collectively improve the lives of everyone and this year is no exception. The theme for Davos 2016 is the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
But what is the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Those of you who paid attention at school might remember that the industrial revolution happened at the end of the 18th century when production was mechanised using steam and water power. That in fact was the First Industrial Revolution. The Second, around 1870, saw the introduction of electricity and mass production, while the third refers to the rise of electronics, Information Technology and so on in the late 1960s.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution according to WEF is “the fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between physical, digital and biological”. This includes innovations such as virtual reality, cybernetics, 3D printing and nanotech.
Why was it being discussed at Davos? Well, the revolution will affect all areas of industry and society and has the potential to improve the lives of everyone. But there is a concern that left unchecked the revolution could have serious implications for privacy, compassion and co-operation. The result, instead of making lives better, could be a widening of the already big chasm between the haves and the have nots. WEF does not want this to happen and is seeking views on how everyone can benefit.
Startups leading the Revolution
Our client startup accelerator, MassChallenge was out at Davos. They point to the fact that much of Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to be driven by tech startups. For instance, Gartner believes that startups will be responsible for half of all new Internet of Things tech, a key element of the revolution.
As John Harthorne CEO of MassChallenge puts it: “One thing which is clear from our work with start-ups is that they are the scientists, engineers and critical thinkers driving innovation in the fields which need it most.”
One such company is Drinkwell, which is combining innovative technology and business models to not only help provide safe drinking water to millions of people, but also create jobs in local communities. This is the epitome of what those meeting at Davos want the Fourth Industrial Revolution to be: pioneering tech that can help all.
To help drive and benefit from the advances to come, Governments and well-established tech companies need to support and learn from startups. Law makers need to ensure the right conditions are in place to encourage innovation growth. This includes regulatory changes, funding and ensuring populations have the required skills.
For big corporations, Harthorne believes they should be collaborating with high impact startups to learn about the latest innovations and trends in their industry, exchanging funding and resources for valuable insight into the latest technological trends.
Here’s a video of John telling TechCrunch how startups can fix the world.
And so it begins…
Industry and governments need to act quickly as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is already starting. We are beginning to see quantum leaps in a wide range of tech – from Joseph DeSimone talking about 100x faster 3D printing for manufacturing to Imperial College London talking nanotech robotics for surgery. Virtual reality is also helping to change the entertainment industry, but perhaps not for the better. Judge for yourself with this SFW demo of VR for the adult entertainment industry.
What are your thoughts on the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Is there any tech that you think will change our lives for the better?