Every new technology comes into life having replaced what went before.
The first cars? Horseless carriages.
The first airplane? A powered glider.
The first websites? Virtual posters and leaflets.
Only as technology develops does it go on to effect profound changes in how we travel, live, work and shop. We are now seeing a collection of technologies, each having the ability to transform our lives, coming at the same time. The effects will be one of the biggest international changes in the history of mankind.
Technological advancement allows for great leaps, from enhanced social mobility to global communities. But when it comes to professions, the vast improvements being made in automation threaten the skilled worker’s livelihood or at the very least automate or eliminate much of the mundane work we do.
Take cloud computing for example, which originally simply moved the software from our computers and servers to servers in data centres. Collaboration and convenience continue to drive these changes, where once-revolutionary online accounting software is now moving towards entire banking solutions. Technologies like Receipt Bank will scan and input invoices and transaction – what happens to book keepers?. Cloud accounting packages allow for integration with HMRC, Companies House (what happens to the high street accountant?) and potential lenders without the need for human interaction (what happens to banking?). In many ways cloud computing levels the playing field making available technology for a small monthly subscription that previously would only be to large corporates.
Machine learning is making the same waves in unimaginably complex arenas; like speech and handwriting recognition, or the infamously intricate game of Go. We are now at a stage where computers are almost as adept as humans. The ‘old way’ of solving these problems were rule-based: if-this-then-that. The potential for human error or psychological interference means that data-driven strategies designed by pioneering supercomputers are providing insights beyond what we as mere humans can do.
The recipe: big data, mass computing power, human-taught error corrections.
The result: machine learning on a grand scale, the elimination of mistakes, the syndication of lessons and strategies to any other machine using the same programme. These computers will fail only once.
The next step: Google Assistant & Google Duplex. You’ll need to see this one to believe it.
For a moment, consider the impact if this technology is improved and widely adopted. Secretaries, receptionists, personal assistants, answering services and many more professions will have something to think about.
And with this kind of virtual assistant in your house, able to listen to every conversation, think about the data supplementation on top of what Amazon, Google and Apple already know about it. Combine that with information from the other smart devices in your home; energy usage from thermostats, travel from your mobile phone, physical activity from your smart watch, daily itinerary from your car, shopping habits from your laptop, social circles from Facebook, likes and dislikes from WhatsApp…the list goes on. (And, by the way, it can include the messages you typed out in WhatsApp but thought better of sending!). This can be a great thing – your phone or digital assistant will understand you better than you do yourself, anticipate your needs before you become aware of them. But how would you feel if that data were used to manipulate elections or affect the price of goods or services (and not necessarily in a good way).
From the dawn of time, to 31st December 2003, we created a mind-blowing amount of data.
But now in 2018, we are creating that same amount of data per day.
All of this is being used to optimise marketing and offers in a way most likely to drive you to purchase. Tesco pioneered this with their Clubcard in 1995, which saw their coupon usage leap from 3% to 70% after data-driven targeting, and overall market share boosted by 10%. Big data turned a middle-of-the-road supermarket chain into the third largest retailer on the planet. What does that mean for marketers and sales staff? Amazon has been able to gain such dominance purely because of its ability to analyse data, customer habits and gaps in the market.
Another buzzword; block chain. This technology, most commonly associated with cryptocurrencies, allows proof of ownership to be held on a public and unhackable record. Conveyancing (the buying and selling of homes) could be done more accurately and more safely, in a matter of seconds. What about solicitors?
Shares will change hands without the need for intermediaries. What for stockbrokers?
Goods received by customers will automatically trigger payments, eliminating the need for letters of credit (and taking another role from banks). Transactions are verified and unalterable reducing the need for auditors.
Dental robots can take x-rays, interpret results, print 3D implants, drill and fit to within micro measurements of accuracy. What about dentists, with the human elements of fatigue, error and misjudgement?
The fourth industrial revolution will foster monumental amounts of data and the machine intelligence to interpret it, to spot patterns and turn it into actionable information and automate routine (and not so routine) tasks.
Much of the change is enhancement of existing technologies. The real difference is the integration and interconnection of these technologies, and the continued growth of computing power.
Artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, 3D printing, biotechnology.
It’s happening, and will continue to happen far faster and far quicker than we expect.
Are you ready?
Get ahead of the pack by hearing from thought leaders and business powerhouses at Growing Gloucestershire 2018, where the future of business will be dissected and analysed to help you prepare for the 4th Industrial Revolution that's already happening around you.
What were the first three industrial revolutions?
First industrial revolution – 1765 >
The mechanisation of manual work – spinning, weaving, automation of agriculture (seed drill, harvesting machines), the use of steam and creation of railroads. Socially, it reflected a shift from rural to urban societies.
Second industrial revolution 1870s >
Electricity, gas and oil, internal combustion engine, mass production. Scientific management and assembly lines, synthetic chemicals, telephones and radio. This led to massive social and political changes. The growth of road networks and transformations in individual mobility, commuting etc.
Third industrial revolution 1960s >
The Digital Revolution. Electronics (transistor and microprocessors) and computing. Robots in the workplace, computers, the internet, mobile phones, the fax machine, transformation from analogue to digital data storage.