TECHNOLOGY 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.

Artificial Intelligence

Algorithm Aversion

Algorithm Aversion

An obstacle for promoters of AI is trust and transparency. There is evidence that people are less likely to trust a computer-based decision than a human-made one – “algorithm aversion” even though decisions made by humans are influenced by sub-conscious factors and often rationalised after the event.

Algorithmic management and bias

Algorithmic management and bias

AI is used increasingly at work, particularly in short-listing and work allocation in the gig economy. The opacity of the decision-making introduces new challenges, not least in defending allegations of unlawful discrimination.

Data privacy

Data privacy

AI in employment clashes with data privacy rights. Data laws give data subjects (eg employees) rights in respect of the use of their personal data. GDPR rules include protections for subjects of automated decision-making and limits on use of biometric data. Regulators have issued guidance on the use of AI in employment.

Potential capability

Potential capability

AI will transform our lives. Potential advances in fields such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals and addressing climate challenges promise great opportunities to meet “moon shot” societal challenges. In other fields, including work, the potential for increased productivity and efficiency are boundless.

Automation and new technologies

Moore's Law

Moore's Law

In 1965 Gordon Moore, Intel co-founder, observed that computing power (transistors per microchip) increased exponentially. From 1975, he predicted a doubling every two years. This has proved largely accurate despite scepticism that it cannot continue much longer.

Productivity gains

Past Industrial Revolutions have seen new jobs outnumber lost jobs, partly due to gains in productivity. However, pre-Covid, from 2000 productivity gains had slowed in most of the G7, and some commentators suggest that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be different from past ones due to its complexity, scale and scope.

Algorithms

Algorithms

Algorithms are merely sets of instructions or rules used to problem-solve, especially by a computer. Increased computing power has transformed their use enabling tasks which were previously done by people to be automated and undertaken much more quickly, efficiently and accurately.

Additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing

Manufacturing promises to undergo a fresh revolution in the years ahead with 3D printing where three-dimensional objects can be produced locally or even “at home”. 4D printing allows for the creation of dynamic products which can adapt or self-repair. 

Communications

Video conferencing

Video conferencing

“Zooming” has, like “hoovering” or “googling”, become the latest brand to become a regularly used verb. Video conferencing has enabled businesses to continue throughout the pandemic and, doubtless, will remain integral to the way businesses operate. 

Virtual reality

Virtual reality

The next step in communication may well be virtual-reality and augmented-reality where a computed-generated environment makes the user feel immersed in their surroundings. Businesses will embrace VR and AR to communicate with customers and enhance their employees’ experience of work. Beyond this lies the metaverse.

Broadband

Moves to towns and rural areas have been facilitated by the rapid extension and increased speeds of broadband internet access. Mobile speeds are increasing too with the roll out of 6G network technology and with 7G sure to follow soon.

Messaging

Email usage continues to grow steadily but is being gradually replaced by messaging apps like WhatsApp, Twitter and WeChat. Businesses are moving to chatbots and other instant messaging platforms. The next step promises the greater integration of AI and messaging.

Data

Increased use of data

Data use continues to increase exponentially. Its use by employers, not least in decision-making, will continue to grow. Access to and ownership of data will become an increasing valuable resource.

Awareness of data rights

Data subjects, including employees, recognise their rights over their data. This is shown by data protection complaints to the UK regulator which, even with a slight downturn in the last two years, show a significant increase over the last six years.

Big data

Big data

The ability to process and analyse large volumes of varied data quickly is transformative. Today, artificial intelligence works together with Big Data to make better use of vast quantities of data in many fields including education, healthcare and industry.

Cyber security

With a growing number and sophistication of attacks whether to access confidential information; to extort money; or merely to show it can be done, employers must devote increasing resources to combatting a growing threat.

TECHNOLOGY - INTERCONNECTING DRIVERS

Technology

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Technology

Role of the State

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Role of the State

Sustainability

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Sustainability

Migration

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Migration

Globalisation

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Globalisation

Covid-19

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Covid-19

Demographics

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Demographics

Part 1 

DRIVERS OF CHANGE

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Part 2 

EMERGING THEMES

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Part 3 

PREDICTIONS

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