The World Economic Forum grabbed headlines in its 2016 Future of Jobs Report when it provided a reference to a popular estimate that "65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist." Many of the new job opportunities will leverage the advances in the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Genome Editing, Nanotechnology, Autonomous Vehicles, Robotics and 3D printing. While some changes have already begun, the most significant impacts will not be fully realized until the technologies further mature.
Be honest, what's your reaction to this prediction? For most of us, this is incredibly threatening. After all, where is our job security when the skills that we have worked so hard to build are no longer relevant? Also, how do we prepare our children to thrive in a world we do not understand?
Remarkably, while humans with the same cognitive abilities as ourselves have been around for at least 40,000 years, industrialization is an incredibly recent event, having just started 250-275 years ago. Prior to which, the majority of people lived in small self-sustaining villages with rudimentary education and very limited innovation. These people would not have known anything about the terms that define our modern life, including: economic expansion, commercial banking, capitalism, consumerism, democracy or globalization.
These realizations beg the following questions:
Why has all of this innovation been concentrated into such a small window of our collective existence?
What is the anticipated social impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
What are the skills required to excel In Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Why has all of this innovation been concentrated in such a small window of our collective existence?
Brilliant innovations have been made throughout human history. However, there was a confluence of several key developments in the highly competitive European region that created the conditions for rapid technological and economic expansion in the centuries leading up to industrialization:
Global trade: the 'Age of Discovery' from the early 1400's to the mid 1600's led to advances in sailing and navigation, which enabled Europeans to sail across oceans by the late 1400's in pursuit of new trading routes and partners.
Militarization of cannons: by the 1500's, new technologies made cannons more mobile and useful as siege weapons, which provided superior military might to expand territories across the globe.
Commercial banking: the hugely expensive and risky international trade market required financing, which was made possible by the following equity and debt innovations: introduction of a stock market in Holland in the early 1600's and the creation of a central bank in England in 1690.
The first industrial revolution, which began in the late 1700's, gave rise to urbanization, capitalism and the modern consumer society; with the introduction of textile factories, steam power and steam engines.
The second industrial revolution, which began in the mid 1800's, saw significant improvement of living standards with the dramatic reduction in the prices of goods and the introductions of the telephone, rail networks and electricity.
The third Industrial revolution, which began in the mid 1900's, provided processing power, connectivity and data to the masses across the globe with the introduction of digital technologies, including: personal computers, the internet, mobile phones and social media.
The new technologies that defined each of the industrial revolutions contributed to rapid wealth creation and had profound impacts on government, society and culture. There is no doubt that humanity has greatly benefited from these developments with improved quality of life, mobility, communications, medicine and the democratization of opportunity.
However, we must also acknowledge that these luxuries have come at a steep price, giving rise to global concerns around over-population, resource depletion, climate change, increases in crime, long ('always on') working hours and wealth disparity.
On a individual level, we have become largely disconnected from the lives of our ancestors, which were defined by close community, deep connection with nature, personal autonomy and self-reliance. These trends have correlated to increases in unhealthy eating and exercise habits, stress, hyper-consumerism and psychological disorders.
What is the anticipated social impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? The speed of change will accelerate to levels never seen before. There will be enormous opportunity for incredible advances in quality of life, including:
Robots and AI will perform many of the menial tasks that drain our energy and keep us at the office for long hours.
Travel and commuting will be faster and safer with autonomous vehicles.
Production costs will be reduced and customizability will be enhanced with developments in 3D printing.
New energy technologies will wean us from reliance on fossil fuels.
Advances in understanding of the brain will assist in the treatment of cognitive disorders and enhance human intelligence.
However, the innovations of the fourth industrial revolution will also force discussions of incredibly divisive topics:
Morality, spirituality and the limits of human consciousness: The new technologies will enable humanity to do things long believed to be reserved for the Gods, such as human genome sequencing and advanced robotics.
Education and re-skilling: long-held paradigms will no longer sufficiently prepare our children for the new reality. Additionally, there is the very real cost of the frequent re-skilling required to adapt to new technologies, or risk being left behind.
Massive shifts in society: New technologies will create societal shifts of size and speed not previously seen. For instance, the full implementation of autonomous vehicles could displace entire professions such as taxi, bus, train and truck drivers.
Data privacy and surveillance: In the digital world, we leave a data trail that can be mined and surveilled without our knowledge or permission. The issues that came into the forefront in the third industrial revolution will only continue to grow.
In many ways, the leading force in government policy since the start of industrialization has been to maximize economic expansion. While economic and productivity growth will continue to be of primary importance, we may soon be reaching a tipping point where the voices behind other social issues will gain more influence, such as climate change, mental wellness, economic equality and corporate trust and transparency. Increasingly, we will be voting with our spending habits and career choices.
What are the skills required to excel In Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Whether or not we like it, the values of the baby boomer generation of work ethic, experience, independence, competitiveness and respecting authority are quickly losing prominence as valued qualities in the workplace. With the rise of enhanced data analytics, AI and robotics, 'value creation' will be what is measured and rewarded.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will provide productivity gains that may enable many to sustain a comfortable life with less than the traditional full-time hours. In many ways, these behaviors have already begun to take root with the rise of new work trends, such as: remote workers, flexible hours, job hopping, crowdsourcing and the 'gig' economy. Many of the best and the brightest of the Millennial Generation no longer tolerate sacrificing their well-being to achieve corporate or team objectives they do not believe in. This generation values authenticity and quality of life over career advancement and accumulation of wealth.
Going forward, the search for the best talent will destroy previous barriers such as location, experience and education in search of the new skills required, such as: complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management and coordinating with others. Also, consistent with the previous revolutions, innovation will remain as the quality of highest value.
As individuals, the Fourth Industrial Revolution provides a tremendous opportunity to improve our happiness and overall life satisfaction. More than ever, we will have the opportunity to leverage our natural abilities to perform jobs that have personal significance, rather than spending our most productive years paying our dues and slaving away at jobs that drain us of time and fulfillment. To excel in the new world, our biggest differentiator will be the quality of our mind. This will provide the foundation to quickly learn new concepts, cope with rapid change, deal with risk, collaborate with both humans and machines and tap into our creative centers.