Everywhere you look today there’s a new headline about Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution – filled with buzzwords like “Big Data.” The pervasive worry is that new technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), will wipe out most jobs in the near future. Despite our best predictions, future innovations and their impact on industry are still indefinite. However, we may best prepare for the effects of the fourth industrial revolution by looking back on the first, second and third industrial revolutions. Workers worried about unemployment today need only reflect on the past several hundred years to see that history repeats itself.
Yes, new technology makes many jobs obsolete. But history shows us that the most dangerous and repetitive jobs are typically the first to go. Consider Ernest Shackleton’s storied classified ad for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition in 1914: “Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small Wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.” Then, treacherous work for low wages was an accepted reality. Slightly over 100 years later, technological advancements have made such working conditions unacceptable and much less of a reality.
It’s extremely important for today’s workforce to understand previous industrial revolutions and their impact on our economy and our quality of life, both as individuals and as a society. Here is a brief look at these movements and their common themes for reassurance, heading into the future, that it’s going to be okay.
Industry 1.0: 1700s To Mid-1800s
The first industrial revolution transformed the economy from agriculture to industry and facilitated mass production to scale supply and meet consumer demand. Mechanization made manufacturing possible for the first time. This meant a huge increase in workers’ productivity.
For example, the spinning jenny allowed a single textile worker to produce eight threads at the same rate it previously took to produce one. Eventually, mechanized cotton spinning powered by steam or water made it possible to create textiles hundreds of times faster than they could be created by hand, while the efficiency of steam engines increased so that they could run on less fuel.
During this time, people panicked that they would lose their jobs to machines. And while new inventions significantly reduced the number of people needed to create goods like textiles by hand, mechanical manufacturing also gave rise to entirely new professions. Technicians, for example, were now needed to build and maintain manufacturing equipment.
Industry 2.0: 1800s To Mid-1900s
The second industrial revolution revolved around the discovery of electricity, gas and oil. The invention of the combustion engine perpetuated the use of these energy sources, allowing steel and chemical products to enter the market. The transportation industry underwent radical transformation with the invention of aircraft and automobiles. The speed of communication sharply increased, as well, with the invention of the telephone.
As before, people panicked. Newspapers were plastered with apocalyptic headlines such as “MARCH OF THE MACHINES MAKES IDLE HANDS.” As before, many jobs were made obsolete. These professions are now so antiquated that many people living today have never heard of them. For example, in the mid-1800s, when doctors believed that bloodletting could cure disease, professional leech collectors were responsible for collecting the blood-sucking insects from nature, often using their own bodies as bait.
Industry 3.0: Mid To Late 1900s
The third industrial revolution was ignited by the advent of nuclear energy and electronics. As with previous industrial revolutions, advancing technology correlated with increased efforts toward making industrial jobs safer. In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) introduced standards around safety and health in the American workplace as a new focus on improving manufacturing processes was made possible by high-level automation.
The birth of computers and, later, the internet radically changed the way people worked and communicated with each other. Manufacturing and automation continued to advance with the help of connectivity and renewable energy. Many people working during the third industrial revolution were convinced that computers would be the machines that finally put them out of a job. However, even though information technology was widely implemented, it still relied on human input and intervention.
Industry 4.0: Today
The primary technological transition between Industry 3.0 and 4.0 is the enhancement of automation with internet connectivity that yields “smart” technology. With respect to manufacturing, this means that an increasing number of components on a production line – both inside and outside of a facility – are connected. As advancements in IoT, cloud technology and AI progress, the physical and virtual worlds will continue to intersect in cyber-physical systems, while predictive maintenance and real-time data help facilitate smarter business decisions for companies around the world.
But will smart technology actually replace human insight? There is little doubt that the job market will look very different as few as 10 years from now. Automation and digital platforms are changing the fundamental nature of work. Over the next decade, technology will increase efficiency, organization and productivity at an exponential rate.
Though smart technology is generating more data than ever before, more data doesn’t always mean better insights. Human insight will almost certainly always be needed to ensure accuracy, especially when it comes to maintenance. As smart technology and IoT necessitate fewer field technicians doing manual work, they will require more experienced technicians who can understand and analyze data related to specific equipment and processes.
If we contextualize Industry 4.0 with previous industrial revolutions, it’s much easier to see that Big Data won’t likely eliminate human work as much as it will elevate human work. The goal is to utilize smart technology to make maintenance jobs safer and more rewarding, by minimizing dangerous and repetitive tasks and capitalizing on human insight and creativity.
Article Provided By: Forbes