We are on the cusp of something huge  ̶  something that could change the face, not only of the global economy, but every aspect of our daily lives  ̶  The Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0.

That, at least, was the theory put forward by Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and Chief Executive of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Speaking at the WEF  Davos event earlier this year, Schwab said the Fourth Industrial Revolution is already upon us and technology will be the driving force of this new age.

Since Schwab’s pronouncement, the world’s press has picked up on the concept, with coverage in media outlets including The Guardian and Wall Street Journal. As a result, it has also gained traction among business leaders, politicians and economists. And it’s gaining traction because Schwab is absolutely correct.

Indeed, we can see the race for digital transformation taking place at unprecedented levels. Cloud computing, social media, mobile tech, data science and the Internet of Things are revolutionising every aspect of our day-to-day lives. This technology is changing entertainment, shopping, transport, agriculture, banking, healthcare and, most notably, human interaction.

Further, we’re seeing breakthroughs in areas including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics and genetics. These technologies are in their infancy but I predict that their impact, as they mature, will be massive. 

Battling the digital divide

However, while the Fourth Industrial Revolution promises to create huge economic opportunities, it could also create sizable inequalities.

The digital divide in the UK is something that has been long talked about, and this coming revolution could cause that gap to widen. Robotics and machine intelligence may well replace some of the jobs that exist today. In addition, those who are already digitally marginalised, such as the elderly and those on lower incomes, could easily become more so.

For me, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution advances, the key to its success is ensuring that it reduces, rather than exacerbates, this divide. 

Our responsibility 

The European tech industry has much to gain from the coming revolution. As such, it must play a pivotal role in ensuring the wave of change benefits the whole of society.

One example of how the industry is already stepping up is the Pledge 1% initiative. Recently launched in the UK, 28 local small business leaders – a high percentage of whom are from technology companies – joined 592 of their international peers in committing 1% of equity, product and employee time to their communities. More than making just a monetary commitment, many of the companies involved are bettering their communities with technology and technology know-how. For the resource-strapped non-profit organisations they support, this kind of integrated philanthropy can have a significant impact.

In fact, many non-profits today benefit from donated technology – or tech that has been created or customised by volunteers for their use. Two notable examples:

  • The Polaris Project – data aggregation enables Polaris to improve both the speed and the quality of its response to human trafficking situations. Using a customised version of technology originally designed for digital marketers to create a single view of customers, in this instance it allows case management, hotline and policy teams to track data together. The result? Faster response times to help those who are in desperate need.
  • Sanergy – this charity looks at a number of key issues in disadvantaged communities in Kenya, including sanitation. One of its cloud-enabled projects enables citizens to manage, process and sell waste as organic fertiliser or renewable energy – both of which are in huge demand in East Africa. 

I am continually amazed by the number of technology influencers I meet who want to apply their technology expertise to make the world a better place.  

And I sincerely hope they do get involved.  When people look back on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will be judged not only the scale of innovation, but also on how we helped ensure those innovations benefitted everyone in our communities.

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