The over-arching theme of the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting at Davos this year was the Fourth Industrial Revolution. According to Professor Klaus Schwab – founder and Chief Executive of the WEF – we’re on the cusp of this revolution, where technology will have enormous ramifications not just on the economy, but on all aspects of our lives.
This idea has really resonated – since then, through all the news about oil prices, tech shares and financial uncertainties, it’s continued to gain traction among business and political figures as well as economists.
And the idea of this impending revolution is gaining traction because Schwab is absolutely correct.
If you think about it, innovations like cloud computing, social media, mobile tech, data science and the Internet of Things are already transforming virtually every aspect of life: from entertainment and shopping, to transport, agriculture, banking, and healthcare through to human interaction itself. We’re also seeing breakthroughs in areas like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics and genetics, but their impact – which is predicted to be massive – is yet to be fully felt. We truly are riding the crest of a wave of digital transformation.
With all this change come challenges too. Remarkable innovation doesn’t just create huge economic opportunity, it can also turn lives upside down and create enormous inequality. For example, it is likely that machine intelligence and robotics will replace some jobs that exist today. And those who are already digitally marginalised could easily become even more so. The elderly, for example, are set to benefit the most from digital healthcare, but as it stands in the UK, they have the lowest chance of being able to access it.
We have long talked about the issue of the digital divide here in the UK. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold, for me, the key to its success is ensuring that it reduces, rather than exacerbates this divide, and that all of us are swept up in positive change.
And it’s the tech industry, which has so much to gain from this Fourth Industrial Revolution, that has a pivotal part to play in ensuring its benefits are felt across society.
Fortunately the wheels have been set in motion. One example of how the industry is stepping up is the Pledge 1% initiative that was recently launched in the UK. Twenty-eight UK entrepreneurs have joined 592 of their international peers in committing one percent of their equity, product, and employee time to their communities. A high percentage of these entrepreneurs are from tech companies. These individuals are not just donating money, they’re actually empowering communities with technology and their technology know-how.
In fact, countless NGOs are today benefitting from technology that they have been given – or that has been created or customized for them by volunteers.
The Polaris Project – dedicated to combating modern-day slavery – is a great example. Data aggregation is enabling Polaris to improve both the speed and the quality of its response to human trafficking situations. It does this by using the type of technology digital marketers do when they create a single view of their customer. Except in this instance, with a little customisation, it’s allowing case management, hotline and policy teams to track data together. The result? Faster response times to help those who are in desperate need of it.
Or take a look at Sanergy, where technology is enabling great change in poorer communities. The charity, focused on communities in Kenya, addresses three issues that are rife in slums the world over: sanitation, compromised female safety and high unemployment. Cloud-based technology empowers operators to weigh, record and sell waste as organic fertilizer or renewable energy (both of which are in huge demand in East Africa), to predict when toilets are going to need removing and when and where new projects should be launched.
I am continually amazed by the number of technology influencers that I meet – from academics and inventors, to business people and bloggers – who express an interest in applying their skills to ensure technology is indeed making the world a better place. And I sincerely hope they do get involved. I am convinced that when future generations look back on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will be judged not only on the ingenuity of the innovation, but how we worked to ensure it benefitted everyone in our communities.