We must put our biggest efforts to build our new Smart Society. For this purpose, we must debate about the big old questions and address the basic needs of people and humanity as a whole. Today there is a decoupling between the new technological developments and the social needs. We must realigned.
This afternoon, we have had the opportunity to participate in the discussion in the Bruegel’s event “Civil Society for the Digital Age”, where Glen Weyl has presented the key points of his last research. He has highlighted the necessity of creating new organizations to mediate between the increasingly isolated individuals and platforms that increasingly concentrate power. He also pointed out some characteristics of these “mediators of individual data”, according to him: biological realism (we can’t forget that we are human beings), inalienable provenance, information quality…
I have already talked about it when I joined the T20 panel on the future of work or in my recently published article in La Vanguardia, ¿A la Altura de la Cuarta Revolución Industrial?, where I expose my vision of the technological and social changes we are facing and now I share in English.
Ready to rise to Fourth Industrial Revolution challenge?
(English translation of the article published in La Vanguardia 22nd october, 2018)
Today’s society, with its complexity and diversity, is not prepared to adequately manage the technological advances happening globally. When we were beginning to learn about the Internet and the digital transformation of the third industrial revolution, the fourth one came to us!
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, thus coined by Karl Schwab in a book with that title in 2016, is built on the third one, the so-called digital revolution. With the irruption of computers, semiconductors and the Internet, it revolutionized the way we relate to others and, therewith, the way we work, consume and produce.
The process has continued advancing with the development of more powerful computers and connectivity infrastructures that facilitate a more mobile internet, thanks to smaller and cheaper sensors and devices. These developments have enabled the emergence of a set of new technologies that are also combining with each other, generating advances that are no longer linear but exponential, which are transmitted globally, and have the potential to transform not only industries but also people’s daily lives. Speed, scale and depth.
We have an example at our fingertips. I invite you to think about the revolution that the smartphone has boosted in the last years and think about all the things that we are able to do on our own through such a small device. So, imagine now that we combined and merged the different developments in fields that used to run in parallel and we connect them through physical, digital and biological platforms. This is the fourth industrial revolution.
Advances ranging from materials science (with fabrics, for example, finer than a hair and as strong as steel) to tools such as 3D printers. Not to mention developments in robotics and Artificial Intelligence, with machines capable of learning, adapting and making decisions autonomously thanks to data. These developments are physical, but are connected to an increasingly complex network in the so-called Internet of Things and in the future network projected by blockchain. To all this, it is added a new layer with biological and medical innovations, which break new ground in genetic engineering, connecting our own bodies to this new dimension.
There are many who draw scenarios for a not too distant future in which technological developments are such that they surpass human intelligence, a phenomenon defined as «singularity» by Kurzweil as early as 1999. In fact, today we have computers capable of processing information and diagnosing faster and more accurately than a doctor. Undoubtedly, this promises extraordinary applications that could respond to the great challenges of Humanity (such as climate change, hunger and diseases) and even a future of immortality according to a few.
But from the individual perspective, the picture may not be so encouraging. We are seeing the emergence of new professions for which we are not ready. They are essentially related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM, which are the disciplines shaping the technologies that replace most of the jobs today and not just the routine and mechanical ones.
The previous industrial revolutions created more jobs than they destroyed. Furthermore, there were social mechanisms (undoubtedly the most important, education) to redistribute the wealth that was generated. Since the speed and depth of today technological changes are much greater, this may not happen this time.
Faced with this eventuality, we have the obligation to seek new ways of organizing a society in which labor is no longer the centerpiece of production. New sources of wealth are being created with dynamics radically different from the traditional industrial system which «guaranteed» employment and wealth for the whole society.
Companies are moving from traditional models in defined and known sectors to new open models in necessarily hybrid sectors, incorporating the innovations and knowledge that occur in our environment in order to reach new solutions. Equally, as a society we have to arbitrate the equivalent mechanisms that allow us to move towards this new reality in an inclusive way: to protect people and not jobs.
It is necessary to build bridges from that technological world where the great advances of the fourth industrial revolution are taking place and understand disruption in order to manage it properly. We will need humanists and philosophers who define ethical rules and identify the appropriate roles of humans in this technological environment. And, of course, economists, lawyers, sociologists, etcetera, who seek the best way to organize us in this world where technology takes precedence over human contribution.
All together, in a collaborative and connected way (with collective human intelligence) we must again put technology at the service of humanity: build a better world, instead of a progress only benefiting the few who lead this technological race with no other rules than arriving first to control the whole. The winner takes it all.
Let’s get to work. Building our future society instead of letting ourselves be carried away by the siren calls of those who promise us to return to a known past, but without a future. For sure, the world will be more technological, but it must also be more humane, with more responsible individuals, more ethical companies and more efficient governments.
In an age of acceleration and complexity, there is no time to lose, at least to leave a better future for our children.
Debate to be continued…