What if the world we knew was subtly being replaced with a new one? Would we notice immediately, or would it only be evident in hindsight?
According to the World Economic Forum, the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is here. It’s a change as significant as any modern revolution before it. And if we look, we’ll see the signs.
If the first three industrial revolutions brought us the steam engine, electricity, and global communication, the fourth revolution merges the digital, physical and biological. As Ray Kurzweil often says, this trajectory will eventually eliminate the barriers between man and machine.
“One of the features of this fourth industrial revolution is that it doesn’t change what we are doing, but it changes us,” says Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.
To some degree, we’re already engaging in this symbiotic relationship today.
Wireless earphones, for instance, signal a symbolic shift toward hardware devices more intimately connecting with our daily lives—slowly chipping away the “middleman” between our thoughts and digital activities. In healthcare, a concept called “quantified self” already allows end-users to measure, track and change habits using personalized sensors connected directly to our bodies.
The future is already here. How can we prepare and adapt to these changes?
Schwab suggests, “The response to [the Fourth Industrial Revolution] must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.”
In other words, we all need to work together as much as possible if we want the most ideal results.
One effort to make collaboration easier is the WEF’s planned “Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” in San Francisco. The SF hub will be a “platform for interaction, insight and impact…where some of the brightest minds can help understand the trends shaping our world and navigate the future.”
In time, we’ll see how well we respond to such profound and rapid technological and social change. So far, the WEF offers a strong message of hope, a note of caution, and a call to action. Because of the massive change on the horizon, a new strategy is required if we want to continue shaping the future as opposed to simply reacting to it.