Four Ways to Win the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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Four Ways to Win the Fourth Industrial RevolutionFortune: Klaus Schwab, December 25, 2018

We’ve just concluded a year in which countless events demonstrated how rapidly and profoundly new technologies are changing our world—in ways both promising and threatening.

In recent months, to give just a few examples, Alphabet’s Waymo division launched America’s first commercial self-driving taxi service; China’s Xinhua News introduced the world’s first A.I.-powered news anchor; and Lockheed Martin began 3D-printing parts for its F-35 fighter jets.

At the same time, social media companies came under scrutiny, as bad actors misused their platforms to hijack elections and incite violence. Some of the world’s largest consumer-facing companies fell victim to data breaches affecting hundreds of millions of customers. And as new technologies helped the world’s richest people become wealthier than ever, inequality increased, and a disaffected “precariat”—racked by economic and social insecurity—turned its back on elites.

These events remind us that the changes we’re experiencing go beyond business as usual. Indeed, they represent a Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This revolution is transforming the world as thoroughly as the 19th-and 20th-century Industrial Revolutions did. Back then, the cutting-edge technologies were steam technology and electricity, trains and cars. Beginning in the 1960s, we saw a third such revolution, with computing at its center. From the first two revolutions, which led to the Gilded Age in America, we know that truly transformative technologies are far more than sets of machinery or tools. They are powerful actors that can change the very core of society.

In hindsight, one can see those transformative eras as smooth evolutionary journeys and forget the rough and even violent disruptions that came with them. But each revolution generated pain and conflict along with progress, and the Fourth Revolution will do the same. The changes it is creating are fast-moving and global, and they will affect governments, civil society, and huge swaths of the population.

Going into 2019, it is in businesses’ self-interest and for the greater good that we shape this Fourth Industrial Revolution more actively. Left unmanaged, technologies will shape us, and in the age of A.I. and malicious “lone wolves,” the risk of harm is greater than ever. To counteract it, I propose four points of action. Read More

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