Eight drivers of change

Eight drivers of change: Technology


Over the last 250 years, technological advances have driven seismic societal changes. These periods of change are often called the First, Second, Third and Fourth Industrial Revolutions, with each one causing an upheaval in the world of work.

The First Industrial Revolution, from around 1765, saw mechanised production from water and steam power and the mechanisation of the textile industry. The Second Industrial Revolution occurred between 1870 and 1914 through advances in the use of steel, electricity, gas and oil, resulting in mass production and the internal combustion engine. From the late 1960s, the Third Industrial Revolution witnessed computerisation and increased automation, embracing concepts such as robotics (the automation of repetitive tasks), digitisation (converting analogue data to a digital form), and digitalisation (using technology to transform business activity). And now, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on these advances by means of smart technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) and greater interconnectivity. The scope of these advances promises to impact on all facets of life including popular acceptance of automated vehicles and potentially mass adoption of cryptocurrencies.

Notably, the gap between each Industrial revolution has reduced dramatically. The Third and Fourth Revolutions have led from one to the other seamlessly. Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, is credited with having coined the term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” in 2016 and has characterised this period as having a scale, scope and complexity unlike anything humankind has previously experienced.

Each past Industrial Revolution saw jobs displaced by industrial or technological developments, but the changes also resulted in new jobs, many of which would have been unimaginable beforehand. These jobs arose both directly, as a result of the technological developments, or indirectly from the increased purchasing power and leisure time created by increased productivity and economic growth. Commentators are divided as to whether we will see this trend continue, with the creation of more and better jobs, or whether the scale, scope and complexity of the Fourth Revolution will mean it is different this time around.

AI - the simulation of human intelligence in machines - is not new but promises a transformative impact on the world of work. As machines take on more tasks traditionally done by people and increasingly perform functions going beyond human capabilities, few jobs appear safe from undergoing significant change or disappearing entirely in the face of automation. Workers will need to adapt and acquire new skills.