Fourth Industrial Revolution

We explore the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and describe its characteristics. In addition, we discuss its main technologies and their impact.

Cuarta Revolución Industrial
The "Internet of things" enables the interconnection of everyday use devices.

What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a series of technological innovations that affect production processes and have implications for the world economy. It is a process that began in the 2000s resulting from the interaction of digital, physical, and biological technologies. The concept of the "Fourth Revolution" to make reference to this series of transformations is highly contested by many experts.

In recent decades, there has been a fusion of different scientific knowledge in search of technological innovation. Advances in computing, biotechnology, and telecommunication systems have allowed constant improvement in new technologies, mainly concerned with robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and programming. Cyber-physical systems emerged as a new scientific branch where the boundaries between the physical and digital blur.

Electronics, software development, and communication platforms, in turn, were incorporated into production processes, generating new production systems. Artificial intelligence and the "Internet of things" (interconnectivity between various types of devices, platforms, and services) have altered spaces and production methods.

Many experts disagree with the concept of "revolution" to refer to these changes on the grounds that they are spin-offs of the Third Industrial Revolution. Advocates of the concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution underline global internet usage, its integration into production systems, and its incorporation into everyday life.

Characteristics of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Among the main characteristics of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are:

  • It arises from the speed, scale, and depth generated by the integration of technological innovations into production processes.
  • It is a highly contested concept used to describe certain production processes that have taken place since the 2000s.
  • It is explained from the fusion of various branches of science applied to industry: cyber-physical systems are a new scientific discipline that integrates advances in computing with biotechnology.
  • The Internet is at the core of the current production system, modifying production methods and business management.

Changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Cuarta Revolución Industrial
The introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence is transforming production processes.

The constant integration of technological innovations into industry has far-reaching effects on the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

Unlike industrial revolutions from previous centuries, which were closely tied to the introduction of new inventions into the production system, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is explained by the emergence of a new economic and social system based on the expansion of the digital world (Internet). The revolution of the production system is not based on technological innovations in themselves, but on the speed, scale, and depth of the changes they bring about.

21st-century industrial production integrates more and more scientific knowledge and technical innovations (for example, from nanotechnology or biotechnology) that transform the way in which all types of goods and services are produced. This trend spans a wide variety of economic sectors and industries.

In addition, inventions facilitating certain aspects of production are integrated, such as renewable energy storage, Big Data processing (large volumes of information), wireless connections, digital printing, virtual reality, computer vision, and simulation software.

Technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The main technologies that characterize the Fourth Industrial Revolution are:

  • The Internet of things. It is the interconnection of everyday use devices through the Internet, including cell phones, household appliances, and televisions.
  • Artificial intelligence. This technology seeks to mimic human intelligence and cognitive functions, and is used in smartphone devices, voice assistance systems, the comprehension of questions, and geolocation systems, among other uses.
  • Robotics. It involves the creation of machines that can perform human functions. It is particularly used in manufacturing for tasks such as transportation, assembling, cutting, and material handling.
  • Augmented reality. This technology enables the incorporation of virtual elements into the interpretation of reality, such as, for example, the visualization of objects added to the environment by means of a cell phone camera.
  • Virtual reality. This technology generates a virtual environment composed of scenes and elements that create an immersive feel through the use of a headset spanning the whole field of view.
  • Big Data. This process makes it possible to analyze and process large amounts of data remotely. It is used, for example, in companies for making decisions, evaluating trends, and interpreting data.

Effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The concept of the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" does not encompass a historical process of the past, but rather seeks to define the possible future effects of the current production system. Therefore, its effects should not be taken as part of a finished process, but as an estimation of the large-scale impacts of this new industrial era.

Broadly speaking, it can be stated that the Fourth Industrial Revolution aims to:

  • Full automation of industrial production. With the incorporation of robots, physical machinery is combined with digital processes, and artificial intelligence is used for decentralized decision-making and cooperation with human resources.
  • Creation of smart factories. The creation of intelligent networks across the entire value chain transforms production spaces.
  • Flexibilization of the production process. The introduction of smart factories allows for greater adaptability to the current state of markets, enabling modifications in the production process.

On the other hand, this transformation in manufacturing  might have profound social consequences:

  • Rising unemployment. The introduction of robotics and automation will lead to a reduction in the number of jobs required for the manufacture of goods.
  • Growing social inequality. Unemployment typically affects the most vulnerable sectors of the population. In turn, new employment conditions widen the social gap between skilled and unskilled labor.
  • Concentration of capital. The capital necessary to invest in technological innovations leaves more and more small and medium-sized companies out of contention, benefiting large corporations that are able to afford the various stages of the production process.

Background of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution corresponds to a periodization that identifies different historical moments in which changes in production processes transformed the political, economic, and social organization of the societies involved:

  • First Industrial Revolution (1760-1840). The invention of the steam engine led to the mechanization of a number of manufacturing tasks as well as to the creation of factories in cities. This allowed mass-production and the rapid growth of the metallurgical, textile, and food industries.
  • Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914). The assembly line was introduced in factories. In addition, the specialization of manufacturing tasks increased productivity and spread industrialization to other manufacturing industries. A revolution in transportation technologies occurred (the airplane, automobile, and tram were invented), as well as in communications (radio, telephone, phonograph, and cinematograph).
  • Third Industrial Revolution (1970-1980). The introduction of technological innovations in computing, robotics, telecommunications, and biotechnology in industries led to a profound transformation in the organization of production. The use of computers for information processing and improvements in telecommunications increased industrial productivity. This, in turn, supported the emergence of large business corporations that concentrated tasks associated with management, production, and the trade of goods and services.

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References

  • Caro Márquez, E. (2017). La cuarta revolución industrial. Universidad de Sevilla.
  • Gasca-Hurtado, G. P., & Machuca-Villegas, L. (2019). Era de la cuarta revolución industrial. Revista Ibérica de Sistemas e Tecnologias de Informação, (34), XI-XV.
  • González Hernández, I. J., Armas Alvarez, B., Coronel Lazcano, M. (y otros). (2021). El desarrollo tecnológico en las revoluciones industriales. Ingenio Y Conciencia Boletín Científico De La Escuela Superior Ciudad Sahagún, 8(16), 41-52.

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KISS, Teresa. "Fourth Industrial Revolution".
Encyclopedia of Humanities. 4 April, 2024, https://humanidades.com/en/fourth-industrial-revolution/.

About the author

Author: Teresa Kiss

Degree in history (University of Buenos Aires)

Translated by: Marilina Gary

Degree in English Language Teaching (Juan XXIII Institute of Higher Education, Bahía Blanca, Argentina).

Updated on: 4 April, 2024
Posted on: 4 April, 2024

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