“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”
What reads like the opening lines of a sci-fi movie, is actually the introduction to the Fourth Industrial Revolution by the World Economic Forum. Water and steam power, followed by electric power and mass production, then by nuclear power, electronics and information technology; have brought waves of profound changes to our lives from the 18th century until now.
It seems we’re on the verge of stepping into yet another new age, where our physical, digital and virtual worlds merge, one of intelligent machines and smart cities. 2001: A Space Odyssey finally comes to life.
And indeed, what we see land on our tables through the INDEX: Award are mind-blowing concepts that are sometimes beyond hard to grasp. You can 3D print your house in less than 24 hours, artificial intelligence predicts epidemics, your chatbot gives you legal advice, floating 3D-holograms help with heart surgery and if you are not hanging out with your collaborative robot buddy, maybe his origami brother is performing medical tasks inside your body.
It’s amazing what is possible, what we can create; yet it’s sometimes hard to imagine how it fits with our reality in the here and now.
Last Sunday I was skyping with my grandma, when the screen froze, showing granny in a particularly unfavourable position. I managed to get that fixed, just to have a close-up of her hearing aid. No sound this time.
The technologies we have in our everyday lives still screw up – frequently.
And it’s in moments like that, where you wonder: how the hell are we going to deal with artificial intelligence and move to Mars when not even this works? We must learn to walk before we can run, isn’t that what we were taught? And here we already live privileged modern lives; what about the people who don’t, shouldn’t we get them on board first?
The instinctive reaction is to pull back, fuelled by fear of the unknown and the fantasy of a nice, orderly step-by-step procedure.
It’s also a trick our minds play on us. Pretending we could prevent change and keep the status quo if we just don’t move. Although we know better – this thing called history.
But even if we could, we hardly would be satisfied with the status quo and the numerous problems we are dealing with politically, economically, environmentally and socially. It’s in our nature to seek solutions and to adapt. And as solutions are never final but create new challenges even as they solve old ones, we continue prototyping, seeking better solutions and adapting.
Looking at our Fourth Industrial Revolution again, it helps to take this step back, remove the sci-fi drama layer frequently created and remain calm. The innovations that are underway in, as they say, exponential speed, will not drop as a world 4.0 package on our doorstep tomorrow, nor the day after tomorrow. Advanced solutions will slowly become part of our lives, others will never see the light of day, but may pave the way for better ones. And throughout, there will be continuous set-backs, improvements and changes.
As the cycle continues, we will soon be used to what we think is a new status quo and wonder about that 5th industrial revolution.
I mentioned I skype with my grandmother. Skype was among the finalists at our very first INDEX: Award in 2005, then a barely known, two-year-old start-up with the goal of creating low-cost communication for people around the world.
It didn’t make the final cut to become a winner because the jury reasoned that “even though Skype is free to download and use (…) the spread of Skype only includes those parts of the world where access to a personal computer or the ability to go online is a given in everyday life.”
Fast-forward 14 years later, Skype not only paved the way for countless video chat apps out there such as Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Zoom, Viber, Line etc. It’s also used by more than 300 million people each month – including my grandma. Who despite pushing 90 and living more than 1000km away, can interact with me as if she was sitting next to me on the couch.
That’s pretty good change – if it works.