When we think of the industrial revolution, our minds are often cast back to the original industrial ‘boom’, back in the 1800s. However, there have, in fact, been three notable industrial revolutions worldwide – and there has arguably been a fourth, which we are still experiencing now. So, what is the fourth industrial revolution, and what does this mean for our future?
First things first, let’s journey back to the three prior revolutions – and ultimately revelations – of the industrial world. To start with, we had the steam engine. The first industrial revolution, which began in Great Britain, is perhaps the most iconic, as it truly transformed the face of modern society. For the very first time, man was aided by the machine. Agricultural processes, for example, were traditionally carried out by hand, but the industrial ‘boom’ led to the invention of machinery to streamline – and massively speed up – these processes. What’s more, the late 1700s and early 1800s saw the birth of the factory system, which has certainly received mixed reviews over the years due to the questionable ethics of workers’ treatment. However, it is undeniable that with the evolution of mechanised production, paired with an increased use of steam power and water power, came increased output and overall capital – and an innovative, industrial world that was forever changed.
Second, came electricity, gas and oil. But what industrial revelations did this lead to? Well, in the late 1800s, the internal combustion engine was invented, in addition to increased steel demand and chemical processes. Increased demand for production in general led to larger scale factories, with mass production assembly lines. Communication-wise, this era walked so that the 21st century could run – with the invention of the telegraph and the telephone! Also, did we mention that cars and planes were invented? All in all, the second industrial revolution was arguably the most significant.
Thirdly, we had the first wave of digital technology. The third industrial revolution, also known as the digital revolution, is naturally the most familiar to us; some will remember the exact transition from life before technology, to after. The mid to late 1900s saw the rise of electronics and new technologies, from computers to enhanced telecommunications, while simultaneously being renowned as the time that nuclear energy took centre stage. Furthermore, this revolution led to the popularity of digital devices (at both work and home), digital broadcasting, and digital data and transmission technologies. The era of technology could be referred to as the age of enhanced human communication, as that is effectively what it has achieved, and is continuing to do so.
This leads us seamlessly on to the fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0. Many are unclear where the third industrial revolution leaves off, and the fourth begins, as both are fundamentally technological in nature. However, some argue that Industry 4.0 – the ultimate digital revolution - began in the 1980s, with the invention of the World Wide Web, whereas others argue that it commenced at the turn of the millennium. However, we can all agree on its non-existent end date: the fourth industrial revolution is happening right now, defining our current era, and set to pave the path for our future.
The birth of the internet was only the beginning: over the last few decades, Industry 4.0 has streamlined production processes through the incorporation of advanced technology. Modern day factories, for example, use technologies such as Big Data, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IoT (The Internet of Things) to significantly increase output for day to day tasks. This affects every core industry, including agriculture. Read more about how food production has been transformed by technology in our recent blog.
As smart devices become even smarter (and smaller, for that matter!), communication becomes instantaneous, and industrial processes become even more streamlined, we are merely witnessing Industry 4.0 continuing to thrive. But while our present is very much embedded in the fourth industrial revolution, what does the future hold?
Firstly, in the 21st century, we are excitingly entering the realm of the metaverse. Virtual reality has led to numerous developments in industrial sectors, and we predict that this will continue to evolve in the next decade. The potential of the virtual world is limitless!
Furthermore, there has been a universal shift in focus to the climate crisis, with sustainability at the centre of current innovation. So, it is likely that the fourth industrial revolution will be later defined as the era that “made the industrial sustainable”. It is undeniable that the past aforementioned revolutions have greatly contributed to the levels of greenhouse gases polluting the atmosphere. Therefore, if anything, Industry 4.0 has the power to pull the ultimate ‘Uno Reverse’ card, and undo some of the damage that has been done, through efforts to “go green”. This has, and will continue to be achieved through the use of renewable energy sources (such as wind, sun and geothermal) and the development of further advanced technologies to aid our sustainable mission.
To conclude, we are experiencing the fourth industrial revolution every day, and its potential is currently boundless and unknown – which is all the more exciting!