Hopefully we won’t ‘flux’ things up
“Take dramatic technological change as an invitation to reflect about who we are and how we see the world.” – Klaus Schwab.
Heraclitus was a philosopher who lived around 500 BC. His biggest contribution to human wisdom was Flux Theory, i.e. all life is ‘change’ and change is constant and never ending.
He likened it to an ever flowing river – never, ever the same as it moves along from one moment to the next and always changing.
At any single point in the universe of time that has existed to date, we humans are simply a moment that happens in the blink of an eye – a mere millisecond.
And yet, each generation can be forgiven for believing that their ‘blink’ is the single most important moment of all time. So it is with our current ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, the term coined to describe where we are all ‘at’ by last week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.
If you want a snapshot of our moment in time and a view of where we’re all heading, grab some time to read the excellent book on this topic published by WEF founder and Chairman Klaus Schwab.
This latest work evolves from similar themes covered by WEF in recent years. It aims to emphasise how technology and society co-exist, and will be entirely intertwined in the future.
Technology is not an outside force over which we have no control. The population of the world is also not confined to a dual choice of ‘accept and live with it’ versus ‘reject and live without it’. Instead, says Schwab, you should “take dramatic technological change as an invitation to reflect about who we are and how we see the world.”
Accepting the invitation and reflecting fully on the issues involved could leave you either greatly encouraged or deeply unnerved.
The book describes three megatrends under clusters including Physical, Digital and Biological. It also identifies tipping points which may occur along the way between now and 2025. Imagine 3D printed cars, sensors everywhere and in everything, new forms of commerce, new advances in genetics and the sciences, and widespread use of artificial intelligence systems, among others. The ‘Internet of Things’ as we currently describe it will be the digital catalyst for our relationship or connectedness with technology in all its guises.
At the heart of all of this lies human ambition and inventiveness and also, human frailty.
With continuous technological advancement comes the possibility of great advances, particularly for developing nations. However, it also raises the spectre of human disempowerment, haves and have-nots, labour substitution and overall changes and imbalances in how societies and economies operate for the future. Environmental considerations, sustainability, human identity, morality and ethics must also be subject to a rethink.
Unfortunately, Schwab feels that “the required levels of leadership and understanding of the changes underway, across all sectors, are low when contrasted with the need to rethink our economic, social and political systems to respond to the fourth industrial revolution. As a result, both at the national and global levels, the requisite institutional framework to govern the diffusion of innovation and mitigate the disruption is inadequate at best and, at worst, absent altogether.”
“The world lacks a consistent, positive and common narrative outlining the opportunities and challenges….a narrative that is essential if we are to empower a diverse set of individuals and communities and avoid a popular backlash against the fundamental changes underway.” By ‘backlash’, that could mean a ‘revolution’ of a different kind or perhaps simply a renunciation or boycott of certain technologies by society (however unlikely that may currently seem).
A solution to all issues lies in the mobilisation of a collective wisdom across the world, which is where Schwab’s book addresses some of the emotional and spiritual considerations of being a human in the middle of constant flux – which is the story of mankind.
All in all, it’s a good book and you will appear all knowing at your next dinner out (for a while at least).
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, by Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum 2016.