The third Industrial Revolution —or Digital Revolution— refers to the shift from mechanical and analogue electronic technology to the digital electronics we use today. In the last four decades, the use of digital computers has become commonplace and the appearance of the Internet connected the world.
If anything, the third Industrial Revolution is as extraordinary as it is normal. Firstly, it is part of the incessable modernization and reinvention process that defines the human race. Secondly, in the last two decades, information and communication technologies have taken tremendous steps forward. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to imagine not having access to an infinite information database, or a quick video call with a dear friend. We have smartphones, houses and cars. The third Industrial Revolution has essentially changed how we behave, think, communicate, work and earn our livelihoods. Let’s see how this wave of technological innovation has shaped the world as we live it today.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACT OF THE THIRD INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: PRESENT AND FUTURE
It started with the crash in US housing prices. This event nearly led to the collapse of the global economy and generated major social displacement throughout world societies. Some of its effects still persist:
- High unemployment rates in US and Europe.
- Record youth unemployment across the world, particuarly in Europe and the Middle East.
- Poor GDP growth in the industrialized world.
- Creation of new jobs that pay significantly less and are less secure than the lost jobs.
- Wealth and income inequality in developed countries similar to those in developing countries.
- Wages that stagnated below inflation levels.
The reason the recession has not worn off entirely, are what Andreas Freund calls “the 6Ds of the Digital Revolution”:
Read more here
It was “a series of anti-government protests, uprisings and armed rebellions that spread across the Middle East in early 2011” (About.com). The achievements of this movement remain unclear. Protestors in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen succesfully managed to overthrow the dictatorships in the countries, but unrest persists. Libya and Syria are in the midst of civil conflict, and the divisions between Islamists and secular groups are deeper now than ever.
That aside, the Arab Spring would not have been possible without social media. The citizens in Libya and Egypt organized a bottoms-up revolution using services such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Skype. Digital media allowed protestors to give the Western world a peek into the brutality of dictators, which helped the rebel cause gain traction.
Often using a smartphone, the digital people’s reporter captured events on video and pictures and uploaded them to social media platforms. This way, the news escaped the government’s censorship and reached a global platform. Still today, digital reporters in armed conflict hotsposts cover the daily events, trying to raise awareness and gain support for their causes.
According to Andreas Freund, “ISIS is the first iteration of a 21dt century digital army, not a traditional army that has been digitized”. Freund goes on to say that ISIS is a digital ecosystem curated around a common purpose, largely self-directed and self-similar. These factors have scored the extremist group significant victories and make it extremely difficult to eradicate.
ISIS’s web presence is strong. They use social media platforms for communication and to spread propaganda. Further web ventures from the group encompass using Bitcoin and similar untraceable digital currency to fund their activities.
In the past, ISIS members have hacked Twitter and other platforms. They also engage in sporadic use of drones, which is proof of their digital sophistication. According to specialist, it is just a matter of time before ISIS lauches a sophisticated cyber attack.
The impact of machine learning on the job market
Machine learning —or artificial intelligence— has been on the tip of people’s tongues for quite some time now. The first attempt at creating a machine that could perform useful reasoning dates back to the 14th century. More recently, artificial beings have been the central idea of fiction works, both on paper and the big screen, since the 1800s. Today, artificial intelligence is seemingly everywhere. From Google’s self-driving cars to the Xbox’s Kinect device; and even as Siri or Cortana in our mobile phones.
However, what may seem like a huge step forward for humanity also ellicits concerns in today’s work force. It was not too long ago that the cotton mills replaced cottage weavers during the first Industrial Revolution. Afterwards, in the second Industrial Revolution, mass assembly lines further reduced the need for unskilled workforce. With the advent of the third Industrial Revolution; machine learning is slowly taking over factories and the automation of productive processes is becoming commonplace.
In 2013, Michael A. Osborne, leading professor in machine learning, and his colleague Carl Benedikt Frey, used an algorithm to determine which jobs are susceptible to automation in the next 20 years. He found that a staggering 47% of current US employment might be at high risk of automation two decades from now. Moreover, AI has taken over jobs they predicted could not be easily automated.
The technology elephant in the room
Also, there is the problem of new job growth. The majority of the jobs that have emerged in recent years are tech-related. In the case of the United States, these new industries contain 0.5% of the national workforce, because they need few employees to operate. In short, there are new jobs in the market, but there are not as many of them as we need to employ all the people who will lose their jobs to AI. Furthermore, it is not clear whether the jobs will be suitable for the newly unemployed people or not.
Finally, the use of AI durinng the third Industrial Revolution will further contribute to the polarisation in the job market. Osborne mentioned that highly prepared people are less susceptible to automation. Hence why the middle skilled jobs will disappear. Instead, the job market will see a surge of high-end, high-skilled jobs; and very low-skilled, low-paid, personal service sector jobs.