EDITOR NOTE: Machines talking to other machines and machines thinking to enhance human operations are only the baseline technologies that will eventually form the kind of future that Klaus Schwab, Founder, and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Think quantum computing, nanotech, self-driving vehicles, and more. Schwab talks about this as if he’s heralding a new utopian vision, one in which the lines between humans and technology will become blurred. It’s quite possible. But every disruptive innovation brings about its own unique set of accidents and negativities. For instance, is “money” better digitized? What would the implications be for security, privacy, and transactional anonymity and freedom? Would such tech make us more decentralized or centralized? And if the latter, does it mean that a leader or a particular class gets to occupy the top of the food chain? Is Schwab’s vision truly a new and evolved way of existence, or is it an old one upgraded--a serfdom 2.0?
Mankind is on the cusp of benefitting from the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0) that will create synergies between hardware, software, networks and biology. Unlike its predecessors, it will not be tiggered by any single breakthrough. Steam power and water triggered the First Industrial Revolution. Electricity along with development of means of transportation and communication started the Second one. The growth of electronics and Information Technology catalysed the Third.
However, multiple technologies are at play for the Fourth one.
The next generation of networks are being rolled out. The proposed speed would be in 20 Gbits/sec as compared to 100 Mbits/sec for 4G networks. They would be accompanied by lower latency at 4 ms, support for higher device densities at 1 million connected devices per square Kilometre etc.
However, 5G is not just about speed, it is an enabler technology for IoT (Internet of Things), AR/VR (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality), Driverless vehicles etc. And the Fourth Industrial Revolution is firmly dependent on widespread rollout of 5G networks.
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum who coined the term, Fourth Industrial Revolution, suggested that breakthroughs in multiple technologies will contribute to it. These would include
3-D printing will allow customised products and their spare parts to be created. As this will be additive process the need for punching, drilling, lamination etc would be eliminated thus reducing waste and lead times. As per the website www.statista.com, this industry is growing at compound rate of 26.4%.
Nanotechnology works on materials with sizes between 1 nm to 100 nm. It can help in creation of sensors to monitor pathogens on crops and livestock, to measure crop productivity, creation of capsules that result in targeted and controlled drug delivery, filters for better water purification and industrial sewage removal, development of solar and fuel cells. It has enabled smaller transistors, magnetic RAMs that enable faster boot of computers, better displays etc
Biotechnology. Genetics and gene therapy will result development of better diagnosis and control of diseases, development of vaccines and antibodies, breeding of plants and animals with selective features, One example being development of an anti-lymphoma vaccine using genetically engineered tobacco plant. Its industrial uses include development of biocatalysts, biofuels, bioremediation for sewage treatment etc.
Energy Storage. Renewable sources of energy contribute to about quarter of global electricity generation, but their production is dependent upon weather conditions and hence need to store generated energy. Lead acid batteries are common but will give way to Li-ion batteries which will last longer. Li-ion batteries will also drive electric vehicles. New wireless standards such as Bluetooth® Smart (also known as "BLE") or zigbee that reduce battery consumption and Energy Harvesting (EH) that aims at collecting energy from ambient external sources will be used for IoT devices.
Quantum computers are based on Quantum Mechanics. Their basic building blocks are qubits which are superpositions of both ‘0’ and ‘1’ states., Google, IBM and Intel have demonstrated Quantum computers with qubits between 50 and 100 but with capability to work on a specific task only. These numbers of qubits are close to “quantum supremacy” that refers to the state when computational power of Quantum computer cannot be matched anymore by classical machines.
Autonomous vehicles would reduce operating costs as cost of driver would be eliminated especially for cars. They would drive at optimal speed implying fuel efficiency and less wear and tear and CO2 emissions. They are expected to have reduced number of accidents and be able to increase network utilization. The scope would include cars, buses and trucks, short and long distance trains, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones, aeroplanes and ships. Drones and short distance trains are already deployed commercially.
Robotics would create unprecedented efficiency in production processes as they would be able to work on almost 24X7 basis. With highly precise, repetitive motions, the robots would reduce errors and eliminate defects associated with humans. Robots are already used in industry for tasks that need precision e.g. placing chips on boards, hazardous e.g. shifting rods in nuclear reactors or otherwise difficult e.g. painting a car body but will get more autonomous in future. According to McKinsey & Company, manufacturing companies can increase productivity by a massive 300 percentage if they start using modules such as collaborative robots and autonomous guided vehicles.
Artificial Intelligence and IoT (AIoT)
The high bandwidths and low latency offered by 5G networks will allow more data to be used by Artificial Intelligence dependent applications. The real benefits will accrue when Artificial intelligence will be applied to IoT devices which will be around 30.9 billion by 2025 as per the website www.statista.com.
The vast number of sensors will generate huge amount of data. As per IDC, data generation would touch 180 Zettabytes by 2025. Artificial Intelligence algorithms will filter data at sensors reducing data flow to the central servers hosted in cloud or they would help take decisions near the sensor itself using edge technologies. In the former case they would analyze the data in the cloud servers. Sensors themselves will become smart and hence will also self monitor and self configure. The impact of AIoT would be unprecedented.
In industries, control of various devices in the factories will shift from factory floor to the control rooms. The handling of faults in machines will become predictive and in some cases preventive actions would be taken. Machines to machine communication between many small devices in offices and factories will be enabled and will help improve assembly line processes, warehouse management, logistic services, supply chain management etc. Collaborative robots with work alongside human beings. Decision making by AI will make IoT devices autonomous.
Autonomous vehicles with predictive maintenance needs would become norm and their safety and fuel efficiency will improve. Smart cities would emerge which would have improved services, less traffic congestion, better fleet management, better conservation of water and energy, and improved quality of life. Smart meters will synchronize demand supply curves and reduce distribution losses. Many functions inside the homes e.g. opening of doors, control of temperature, optimal running of appliances will “learn” from human behaviour and become autonomous. Predictive maintenance of devices will become common.
On individual front, the chances of predicting onset of certain diseases and successfully managing them after patient catches them will improve. Wearables that track human health and preferences will become a norm. Voice assistants will evolve to read facial and vocal expressions and provide context based responses.
The proportionate impact of the Industrial revolutions on human life as compared to industry has increased with each successive revolution. Similarly, the improvements in communication and transportation hav been increasing the speed and the spread of each revolution. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will weaken the lines between digital, physical and biological spheres and revolutionize the way we live, work and connect. However, it will not be a big bang event but a silent change already underway.
Originally posted on Business World