The Fourth Industrial Revolution
As technology advanced at high speed, questions on preparedness and implications are raised.
23rd March 2017 – Erica Kochi (Futures Lead, Office of Innovation, UNICEF) participates at the opening of the World Economic Forum’s “Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” in San Francisco. She joined a diverse group to discuss ethical issues, implications, and regulation on Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies.
Breakthroughs in connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, internet of things (IoT), biotech, and other innovative technologies are already reshaping the way we live. As the advancement of these technologies is moving at high speed – more questions on preparedness and societal implications are being raised.
Are we ready?
The speed of this transformation is mind-boggling, and I’m concerned about how little the world is prepared for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution benefit society?
If the world continues on its current trajectory, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not likely to add value for the majority of the world.
Erica’s comments at the event are below:
By 2050, almost all of the additional people 3.7 billion on the planet will live in emerging economies – notably Asia and Africa. The population of developed economies, which make up the majority of current technology user bases, is expected to change minimally.
Today, 2 of the 7 billion people on the planet are below the age of 25, and 90 percent of these young people live in emerging economies. Africa’s young population as a share of the global population is expected to rise from 18% today to 28% by 2040, while the shares of all other regions will decline.
In Germany, the median age is 46, In China, it’s 36. In Nigeria, it’s 18. Nigeria’s population is expected to soar from 200m today to 900 million by 2100. 4 in 10 of the world’s population will be African by the end of this century.
Two interconnected challenges for young people
If the world continues on its current trajectory, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will not benefit the majority of the world. This is largely due to two inter-connected challenges that young people are facing today.
In the past, the path to prosperity was through industrialization. Economies would keep more of the value chain at home and this would help grow the economy. The first challenge is that the technologies of the 4IR are cut off this path because they make it cheaper and more effective for machines to do unskilled and even skilled jobs which are have historically played a key role.
The second challenge is that, even if the 4IR creates new types of jobs which require new set skills such as creativity, and interpersonal skills; the education systems that are supposed to give them the skills they need to participate in the 4IR are largely broken around the world.
We know what happens when you have young people who don’t have agency or opportunity – they try to get to where the opportunities are, they have revolutions against the governments and maybe even corporations, they become more susceptible to extremist ideologies.
This is such a big problem that scares me every day. It goes without saying that no one sector of society can solve this alone.
We need to prepare young people to be able to participate in the 4IR. This is THE long term investment we need to be making, and it can’t play out within a political term. Governments, corporations and civil society all must play a role here, and it requires a dramatically different approach. Our traditional notions of classrooms and curriculums will need rethinking. Here – connectivity will also be key for children to be able to participate, and this will only happen for everyone if governments and the private sector work hand and hand.
Businesses need to be the pull for employment and should be investing in education well before tertiary education.
I believe in strong governments and institutions. So far, it’s the only way that ensures that people aren’t left behind. We need a new business model that goes beyond profit and also takes into account human outcomes.
I’m also excited about Universal Basic Income. For the most part, public institutions are too complex and we’re also only at the beginning of the mass labor displacement that’s happening because of the 4IR. We’re seeing some hopeful results from the UBI trials around the world, and this only strengthens the body of evidence that the poor invest their money wisely – in making sure that their children have a better life than they do.
These discussions were only a few of many sessions held during the opening of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. An event which brought together over 100 leaders, experts, and influencers from across the public, private, and civil society sectors to talk about how to better prepare for the 4IR movement.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution aims to be the catalyst and the amplifier for the growing number of efforts to ensure that technology benefits society.