From the conclusions drawn by attendees of this year’s World Economic Forum at Davos we learned that we’re on the verge of a fourth industrial revolution that will change the face of the world we live in like never before.
As a quick recap, the first Industrial Revolution was brought by the steam engine which allowed humanity to transport goods and people across much larger distances and partially automatize manufacture.
The second Industrial Revolution was sparked by electricity, the internal combustion engine, and invention of motion picture. The third revolution happened with the dawn of the digital era when personal computers reached the general population and the Internet became widely available.
But WEF experts believe that we are witnessing a fourth revolution – the rise of intelligent machines that may leave many of us jobless by the end of the century. And we do see it happen with fresh innovations including automated cars, war robots, 3 D printing manufacture, and incredibly versatile new materials.
Technology experts and business think-tanks argued that smart machines would have unprecedented implications on the world’s economy. For instance, some workers would see their jobs taken away by machines including drivers, construction and manufacture workers, as well as some front desk positions such as hotel receptionists which may lose their bread to humanoid robots who put on a permanent smiley face.
Machines work faster, cheaper, and with fewer errors than humans do. They also do not go on strike, never get distracted, or need a paid sick leave. Experts estimate that in a plant smart machines could reduce the number of workers from hundreds to a few dozen, which are needed to oil and maintain the robots. But as soon as researchers invent robots that can do those tasks too, the number of human employees could sink even lower.
According to a recent report, just in the U.S., 47 percent of jobs could be performed by machines. Though experts generally agree the fourth Industrial Revolution would boost productivity worldwide and the amount of global wealth, critics are concerned that this revolution would benefit only a select few: the world’s richest. This is why, there are concerns that mindless automation would increase even more the gap between the rich and the poor and could lead to social instability.
Such concerns were highlighted by the Swiss bank UBS in a report which shows that as low-skill workforces loses terrain to intelligent machines, a tremendous pressure would be put on middle class jobs as well.
Klaus Schwab, founder of the WEF reached a similar conclusion in a book about Industrial Revolution 4.0. He noted that Detroit’s Big Three automakers were able to generate the same revenues (about $250 billon per year) with ten times fewer workers from 1990 through 2014.
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