Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, is calling the future economy, “powered by the mobile internet, automation and artificial intelligence,” the fourth industrial revolution.
After revolutions driven by coal and steam, electricity and the automobile, and computing, Schwab sees these new technologies pushing the world forward to new heights. The Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims writes:
Each of these earlier revolutions is easy to measure in hindsight—tons of steel produced, number of automobiles on the road, the proportion of homes with a PC. Since we’re just at the start of this latest transformation, we can only try to find clues to the future by looking at the trends of the past decade, with the rise of the smartphone, the Internet of Things and cloud computing.
In the two years since Prof. Schwab’s talk, those trends have gone into overdrive. The sudden ramp-up of technologies ranging from phone components to wireless networks to data centers points to a new kind of automation, more pervasive and smarter than ever before seen. It affects every industry, not just manufacturing, logistics or transportation, and is unique in the degree to which it is affecting white-collar as well as blue-collar workers.
We’re either witnessing the end of work as we know it or “merely” a profound transformation of what jobs humans do. Either way, the economic and political ramifications are likely to be on par with the impact of the past 50 years of outsourcing and globalization.
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