The Fourth Industrial Revolution is Happening

by Brian Frederick
May 3, 2018

You say you want a revolution…

You might not realize it, but there’s a revolution going on right now — an industrial revolution that’s changing the way every business operates. 

You’re probably familiar with the first Industrial Revolution, the one that happened in the 18th century. That’s when machine tools, chemical advances and steam power led to a rapid conversion from hand production methods and the rise of modern manufacturing. What you may not realize, however, is that we’ve had two other Industrial Revolutions since that initial transition, and are currently undergoing a third.

The Second Industrial Revolution began in roughly 1870 and lasted up until just before World War I. Sometimes called the Technological Revolution, this period saw advancements in manufacturing and production technology enabled by systems like the railroads, telegraph (and later telephone), the electrical grid and other infrastructure advancements. This period gave us new game-changing technologies like the internal combustion engine, petroleum and mass-produced steel.

In the late 1950s, the Third Industrial Revolution, or Digital Revolution, led to a shift away from mechanical and analogue technology into new digital electronics. Lasting until the late 70s, this revolution was empowered by the mass production of digital logic circuits and associated technology, including the computer. 

And now, we’re in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0.

Technology is blurring the lines of the physical, digital and biological.

Technological growth has continued at an exponential rate, leading to breakthroughs in many fields, including computing, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. In scale, scope and complexity, this transformation will surpass the others, and be unlike anything else humans have experienced. 

It starts with connectivity. You probably already appreciate the connectivity your phone allows you, offering access to not only other people around the globe, but putting incredible amounts of information right at your fingertips. Now imagine the possibilities presented by applying this technology and exponentially magnifying its power by interlinking it in other fields. 

We’re already seeing the beginnings of this as self-driving cars begin to appear on the roads and AI is being put to used to help develop new medications.  New materials are being developed daily that are lighter, stronger and superior to their old alternatives, and all of this is possible thanks to technology. 

A world of opportunities

Just like the previous revolutions, this one has the potential to greatly enhance the quality of life for many people. So far, the biggest benefits have been for first world consumers, who can afford access to high-tech products. Whether it’s a robotic vacuum to keep the floors clean, or a smart refrigerator that alerts you when you’re out of eggs, formerly mundane tasks have been automated and can often be completed remotely. 

But it’s not just consumer products. Technology has created massive gains in efficiency and productivity for nearly every industry, maximizing supply chains and minimizing waste. Transportation costs can be minimized and more work completed in less time, allowing for markets to expand and driving economic growth.

Potential challenges

Of course it’s not all roses. This revolution, as beneficial as it could be, could also lead to greater inequality. As automation becomes more widespread, the US could lose as many as 30% of existing jobs by 2030. While some remain certain advances will create others to take their place, others are not so confident

So far, the largest beneficiaries of innovation seem to be the people who provide the capital, whether intellectual or physical. Low-skill workers, however, are not witnessing any of the gains, and are seeing their employment opportunities dwindle. As a result, many workers are distrustful of technology and fearful of the future, which in turn, has contributed to rising populist movements throughout Europe and the United States. 

What does this mean for construction?

What Industry 4.0 means for builders is still open to interpretation. Autonomous machinery could become the norm, with self-operating cranes, backhoes and haulers eventually taking the place of manned machinery. 

It could also mean smart materials and technologies to make smart buildings that can automatically adjust temperatures, turn lights on and off, and even schedule their own maintenance. 

One area where it’s sure to change the game is in logistics and fleet management. We’re already seeing the efficiency benefits of telematics solutions like ES Track. Combining a full range of assets and back office software into one platform provides numerous opportunities to minimize waste and maximize productivity. Digital data gives real-time information on every aspect of a business, allowing for better decision making, and increased connectivity facilitates communication. 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is undoubtedly changing the landscape of not only construction, but every industry. These are truly interesting times, and tomorrow is sure to bring even more exciting developments. 

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